Fear and Back Pain

That's not me, his form is better

I went bowling a few nights ago, for the first time in years, and it definitely made my back ache for a couple of days. I rolled three games with a fairly heavy ball, and felt a tightness in my rear end and lower back the day after. Instead of resting, though, I walked 7 miles in the next two days, mobilizing the muscles that were hurting.  Then I did a couple of core routines, and lifted some light weights, using high reps.

My point is, I fought through it and kept exercising as opposed to resting and letting my back “heal”. Admittedly, the correct way to play it would have been to roll just one game, then built up to three over a few weeks. But as I’ve said before on this blog, sitting on your butt is a recipe for chronic pain.

And there’s the pychological benefit of exercise, as well. As Doctor Nathaniel L. Tindel says, in his book “I’ve Got Your Back: The Truth About Spine Surgery, Straight From a Surgeon”, exercise gives back pain sufferers a sense that they’re in control of their body. This is really counterintuitive advice compared to what doctors were dishing out in the early 1990s when I had my first laminectomy.

“Back in those olden days, we had the idea that the spine was delicate, and if something went wrong it was to be pampered,” Tindel writes. “Although those days are long gone, there’s still vestigal fear lingering in some patients. If it hurts to move, they just can’t believe moving is a good idea. Well it is.”

To prove his point, Lindel relates a study published in Norway in 1995. Out of 800 people with low back pain, they randomly assigned a portion to a control group, which got normal, non-surgical treatment (the study didn’t specify what that treatment was). But the intervention group got two medical appointments, one for testing and one for a specific consultation, in which they were given assurance that light activity had no chance of further injuring their back. In fact, Lindel writes, “Great emphasis was put on the effort to remove fear about LBP (Lower Back Pain).”

Two hundred days later, 70 percent of the intervention group was back at work, compared with only 40 percent of the control group. If that sounds familiar, yep, Dr. John Sarno strikes again! He also theorizes that fear brought on from gloom-and-doom diagnoses has the effect of increasing the incidence of chronic pain.

Over the 20 year course of my back odyssey, my greatest fears have been not of debilitating pain. Instead I have been afraid of not being able to fully particpate in life – whether that be enjoying a walk in the woods or a bike ride, or even, perhaps in the future, picking up my son or daughter without fear of injury.


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