The answer is yes to both questions. Back pain, if not handled properly, can get you down. At first, you think, "Ah, it's not a big deal. It'll go away." But, it doesn't. Routine exercise, workouts at the gym, or a jog in the neighborhood begin bothering you. So, you cut back. You ease up on the exercise and maybe quit jogging. The pain subsides, some, but not enough. Then, you notice that the routines of everyday life hurt. Now what? Do you just quit mowing the lawn, cleaning the house, carrying out the trash? Forever? Is your life destined for nothing more physical than punching a television remote?
When you give up certain activities, something you don't really want to let go of, you're not ready to let go of, you may experience a form of grief; a sadness that drapes itself over you. You may love running and when faced with the idea of giving it up because your back hurts, you may become irritable, lose interest in other activities, or feel generally down - all signs of depression. And, as you trudge through life under the weight of this sad, subconscious blanket, your back is apt to hurt even more. Your body aches from the weight of your thoughts.
Most people, when their back begins to hurt without any specific cause, are bewildered. After visiting their physician and hearing that there is nothing on an MRI or Xray to account for the pain, they become even more confused. But, in some cases, the pain in your back is like the pressure valve on a hot water heater. It keeps the system from completely coming apart. The pressures of life, disappointments, frustrations are sometimes just too much to face, so you face what you can - back pain. You may not believe me but that's ok. It's not just my opinion. About 54% of people who have chronic low back pain, are depressed prior to the onset of their back pain and about 46% are depressed after the onset of back pain. Back pain comes with an emotional tax.
Whether you have back pain and feel down and blue as a result or are down and blue then develop back pain, the emotional taxation is what makes beating back pain so difficult. You must exercise to build a stronger, healthier spine yet, if you exercise too much, too hard, too often, you hurt. When you hurt, thoughts scamper through your mind, half formed, looking for a place to call home; to take root and blossom into an orchard of despair. These thoughts are rarely full sentences and sometimes not even words but feelings: sadness, frustration, worry, anger. They're real and very powerful.
You become what you think about. For what you think about is what you talk about; what you talk about is what you do; what you do is what you get. The back pain cycle is snapped by changing how you think. Think first, then do. Avoid the trap of letting the negative thoughts take root in your mind. It will take a great deal a mental weeding to get rid of them.
For those readers expecting me to give you a new stretch or a magical spine exercise and are disappointed to learn that beating back pain begins in the mind, well, it's true. Beating any physical problem starts with how you think about the problem. Exercises are very important; sometimes stretching, yoga, Pilate's will help build strength, endurance, flexibility but without mastery of thought, it won't matter. None of it will work.
You can choose your thoughts. Stay focused on what you can do; what you have achieved. When you feel the blanket of sadness fall on your shoulders, acknowledge it and mentally cast it off. You can only have one thought at a time. Make them work for you not against you.
Guard your thoughts. Thoughts can hurt.
So, what do you think?
PS - To learn more about back pain, sign up for our next free, one hour class held in Sports Center or buy our CD from our online store. Either one will completely change the way you think about back pain.
Polatin, P. B., R. K. Kinney, et al. (1993). "Psychiatric illness and chronic low-back pain. The mind and the spine--which goes first?" Spine 18(1): 66-71