Understanding Pain: Why do we “pick the scab?”
The following information is from a great book meant for the non-physician to help resolve their own back problems. The book is by Stuart McGill PhD and is called “Back Mechanic: The secrets to a healthy spine your doctor isn’t telling you.”
I highly recommend the book if you have or are suffering from low back pain. The end goal is to remove the stressors and spare your spine with proper movement and strengthening exercises.
“Many back pain sufferers would experience a huge breakthrough in their recovery if they only realized that it was their flawed movement patterns that kept them pain-sensitive. Much like a scab forming on our skin, our backs are constantly trying to patch and heal themselves. However, by continuing to repeat harmful movement patterns in our daily lives, we cause re-injury. We are essentially “picking the scab.” It is unreasonable to expect the body to heal if we continue to provoke it in the same way that led to the original injury. Continued provocation of pain sensitizes the nerves so that the pain is triggered with even less stimulation. Remove the provocative motions and we can find the solution.
Here’s how pain sensitivity works: people increase their sensitivity through repeated stressful and painful loading. These muscles and joints are loaded with sensors: pain sensors, pressure sensors, force sensors, chemical sensors. Some detect carbon dioxide; some detect pain, some sense histamine for inflammation. Human joints are packed with sensors that relay position and movement information to the brain. These signals travel along the sensory nerves. Along the highway of nerves, there are checkpoints or “gates,” at junctions. According to the Gate Theory of Pain, the idea is to flood the checkpoint with “good information,” in other words, signals associated with pain-free movement. In this way, there is no more room for the pain signals as they are crowded out.
Try this: close your eyes and find the tip of your nose with your finger like in a roadside sobriety test. You are using kinesthetic sensory organs that run throughout your arm to navigate. These sensors alert the brain as to the position of your forefinger in relation to your nose. The sensation of this simple pain-free motion dominates the information traffic on your sensory nerves with feel-good kinesthetic sensory information that identifies position, length, and force.
Finding and repeating pain-free motions in your back will cause the remaining painful activities to hurt less. Read the previous sentence again – it really is that important.
By discovering and ingraining positive movements for your back, you will find that the pain often dissipates and then disappears entirely. This is because when we remove pain triggers and stop “picking the scab” we give our tissues a chance to rest, heal and regenerate. Simultaneously our sensors for pain are actually being desensitized. Master this, and you have mastered your back pain.
For those of you that have a known type of injury, a name to attach to your condition, your personal recovery strategy should always begin with avoiding the aggravating posture for your spine is the key to getting yourself back on track.
Various symptoms of back pain have a distinct and known cause. Injuries can be avoided if we avoid the injury mechanism itself. Here’s a recap of some pain avoidance strategies, as well as an introduction of some that will be discussed later. The knowledge in this chapter will provide the foundation that will help you:
Locate and eliminate the cause of your pain- get an appropriate assessment that provides a specific diagnosis.
Increase your consciousness around what movements and postures cause you pain.
Develop replacement postures and movement patterns that enable you to function pain-free.
Stabilize your torso, core, and spine to remove painful spine joint micro-movements.
Develop a daily exercise plan that includes walking.
Mobilize your hips.
Learn to create power at the ball and socket joints (hips and shoulders).
Learn exercises that are based on patterns of movement: push, pull, lift, carry, lunge, squat, etc.
Make healthy spine choices when sleeping, sitting, or engaging in more demanding activities.
You’re on your way to learning the secrets of a pain-free lifestyle! Let’s make it happen!