Should You Learn to Live With Back Pain?

Of course you can live with the pain, it's the effects of the stress you can't live with. How many times have you heard that stress causes health problems? Modern medical science finally has an answer.

I'm not going to argue that you can't live with back pain. Of course you can. For proof just look in the mirror. There is a long list of various maladies that could cause back pain, and to be sure, a few of them such as spinal meningitis are life threatening, but for the most part garden-variety bone/muscle/nerve back pain, often referred to as mechanical back pain, is not something that you will die from - therefore, you can live with it. Elementary logic. Simple stuff, really. Back pain is not like chest pain where there is a very real possibility that you might die from the coming heart attack. Most assuredly it is stressful to live with a bad back, never knowing  for sure whether tomorrow will be a good day or a bad day, but certainly not life threatening. The real question is can you live with the constant stress of chronic neck pain or back pain? Should you do less and less as months turn into years in a futile effort to avoid the pain? Should you take more and more, and stronger and stronger drugs in an effort to continue a normal life? And, perhaps, most importantly, if there was a way to halt or slow down the gradual progression from cane to walker to scooter, would you do it?

The real problem with chronic neck pain and back pain is not the pain it causes, but the stress it causes. How many times have you heard that stress causes health problems? A true enough statement insofar as it goes but it is more accurate to state that stress causes chemical changes within your body that when prolonged eventually result in health problems. Say, for instance, that you go out to your mailbox to check the mail and find a letter from the IRS. Would your blood pressure go up? The onset of a stress response is associated with specific physiological actions in the sympathetic nervous system, both directly and indirectly through the release of adrenaline and other hormones to facilitate immediate physical reactions by triggering increases in heart rate and respiration, constricting blood flow to the internal organs, facilitating blood flow to the skeletal muscles, and a host of others all evolved to increase your chances of survival.  These are the things you can't live with. Would you get a knot in your stomach? An IRS audit doesn't cause ulcers but the stress of an IRS audit, or more specifically the chemical changes that occur as the result of the stress, may. The interactions of the hypothalamus, pituitary, and adrenal glands are a major part of the neuroendocrine system that controls reactions to stress and regulates many body processes, including the circulatory system, digestion, the immune system, mood and emotions, sexual vitality, and many, many, many others. How do you sleep between now and audit day? Stress can interfere with a very long list of vital functions.

Wikipedia ( states that a stressor is a chemical or biological agent, environmental condition, an external stimulus or an event that causes stress to an organism. An event that triggers the stress response may include for example:
· environmental stressors (elevated sound levels, over-illumination, overcrowding)
· daily stress events (e.g. traffic, lost keys)
· life changes (e.g. divorce, bereavement)
· workplace stressors (e.g. role strain, lack of control)
· physical stressors (e.g. tobacco, alcohol, drugs)

Stress Comes in an Endless Variety of Forms
Clearly stress comes in an endless variety of forms. However, the physiologic response, complicated though it may be, is basically the same regardless of the source of the stress. Everyone at one time or another has had a rock in their shoe. How did you know there was a rock in your shoe? Why, the little nerve on the bottom of your foot that was pinched or irritated by the rock somehow communicated said fact to your brain. Naturally your foot hurts, this much is apparent, but is that all? The more steps you take and the faster you walk the more it hurts so obviously it makes sense to slow down and to avoid walking altogether whenever possible. Pain itself is a physical stressor. Doing less will certainly help, but there is a limit to how little you can get by with, and losing your job would result in yet another kind of stress. By the end of the week would you be a little irritable? By the end of the month your foot will be throbbing whether you are walking on it or not. You're not sure whether you don't sleep well because you can never quite seem to get it into a comfortable position or because, like the caffeine in a cup of coffee, the adrenaline in your blood stream is interfering with restful sleep. After a few months of this you'll notice that you have high blood pressure. Both adequate sleep and proper exercise are essential to controlling high blood pressure, but remember you're trying to limit your activities to prevent your foot from hurting so badly. Even if you took enough ibuprofen to cover up the pain and exercised anyway it is doubtful it would help because elevated blood pressure is a natural response to a stressor (such as a pinched nerve) and has just been compounded by the chemical stress of the drug. The heartburn you're experiencing could simply be the physical stress or may be from the chemical stress of too much ibuprofen. You'll feel tired all the time too, but whether this is because every step requires extra effort, because you don't sleep well, or because of adrenal fatigue you can't quite be sure.

The solution seems so obvious, simply shake the rock out of your shoe to un-pinch the nerve. No one would walk around for long with a rock in their shoe, and not because you can't live with foot pain because I'm guessing you can. It's the other stuff you can't live with. So was all that a gross exaggeration just to make a point? Not at all, many people are walking around trying to live with back pain and neck pain too without realizing the far reaching effects of this stress on the other systems of the body. Further, if that much misery could be caused by irritating a rather insignificant nerve at the bottom of your foot, or from a letter from the IRS, just imagine the effect of irritating the spinal cord or a major spinal nerve root for days, weeks, and months at a time.

What's the Answer?
Modern medical science finally has an answer for those who suffer with chronic neck and back pain - non-surgical spinal decompression. But, only you have the answer to the most fundamental question. If there was a way to halt or slow down the gradual progression from cane to walker to scooter, to stop the pain, and to reduce the stress, would you do it? If there was a way to reduce the stress, to feel better, and to be active again would you do it?

Dr. Michael L. Hall, D.C. practices at Triangle Disc Care in Raleigh, North Carolina specializing in Spinal Decompression for the treatment of acute and chronic neck pain and back pain due to herniated, degenerated discs that pinch spinal nerves. This is a conservative procedure for patients suffering with bulging or herniated discs, degenerative disc disease, posterior facet syndrome, sciatica, failed back surgery syndrome, and non-specified mechanical low back or neck pain.

For more information call 919-571-2515 or click the form to the left.