This is the third post in a three part series on back pain. We’ve written it to help you understand how and why back pain happens, how it is diagnosed, as well as the outcomes you can expect with treatment. There is still much to learn about back pain, and science is continually helping us to refine our understanding of it.
Two of the most commonly asked questions about back pain are 1) when will I be pain free? and 2) what can I do to prevent the pain from returning? The short answers are 1) you won’t, and 2) not much.
Okay, there’s a bit more to it than that.
An important component to consider when managing back pain is having realistic expectations. When you better understand the pain and the factors involved in managing it, outcomes can improve.
Part of the problem when dealing with back pain is that we live in a day and age where we are inundated with messages from popular media telling us how we should look, act, and feel. This type of messaging even pervades healthcare where there is every kind of product and service touted to cure what ails you (after you’ve been told that you’re ailing in the first place). Much of the messaging is based on the idea that you should be aiming for perfection and that if you live a certain way you will achieve it. This unfortunately can set up damaging, unrealistic expectations in our minds.
One of those unrealistic expectations is the notion that we should be pain free. Being pain free all of the time is a myth, particularly in a society that makes it so easy to be sedentary. But even in countries and cultures where movement is more prevalent, back pain is still just as common. The difference is that in those regions back pain is regarded as an occasional nuisance. People get on with their lives as well as they are able, and the back pain doesn’t take over (and just to be clear no, you’re not a wimp, you just have a different cultural bias).
“Being pain free all of the time is a myth…”
Another unrealistic expectation is that back pain can be cured. Curing implies that the back pain is fixed and will never return. But the fact of the matter is that back pain can often be recurrent even after having treatment which has helped to reduce it. Within healthcare there are few things that can be cured. However, there are many that can be managed well, and fortunately back pain is among them (read more about chiropractic care for back pain).
Back pain is also so much more than the antiquated idea of a “bone out of place”. It is influenced by many factors including how long you’ve had the back pain, how severe it is, what started it, how healthy you are right now, how well you’re eating, what your mental and emotional state is, how much of an opportunity you have to make healthy changes, and as mentioned above, even cultural influences. Addressing any one of these factors can be just as important as addressing the physical factors alone.
So let me provide more complete answers to the two questions posed at the start of this post. 1) When will I be pain free? Answer: You may or may not achieve a state of being fully pain free, however, you can return to feeling very well and living an active healthy lifestyle. 2) What can I do to prevent the pain from returning? Answer: Back pain can happen to anyone at any time and there are too many factors involved making consistent, predictable prevention nearly impossible.
Now let’s add a third question. 3) What should I expect with this back pain? Answer: Take reassurance in knowing that back pain is common and often self-limiting. Take reassurance knowing that back pain is manageable and responds well to treatment, exercise, and lifestyle modification. Take reassurance in knowing that your body naturally wants to be well as long as you are providing the right conditions for it.
And finally, know that being in in good health doesn’t mean you will never be injured or have pain again. It means that when it happens you’ll be better prepared to manage it.