The Back Pain Prophecy

Almost everyone of us has faced back pain, and we know how bad can it be for our well-being. What part does the mind play in back pain?  If it’s a very big part, then Yoga can help back pain sufferers beyond increasing flexibility and muscle strength.  Yoga helps practitioners to tame the mind, to control it rather than letting it control them.

It turns out that anticipating back pain is a big elicitor of the actual pain.  Thinking we’re going to hurt actually makes us hurt.

In recent experiments, researchers looked at how any movement of the arms or legs affects the back.  When walking, before we swing a leg forward, the brain thinks ahead and sends an unconscious signal to our trunk to command stability by tightening abdominal and back muscles so that the force of the leg swing doesn’t knock us over.

When people are experiencing back pain after an injury, those early brain signals get distorted.  The normal response to arm or leg movement is changed, and the spine stiffens with a recruitment of more superficial muscles.  In some people this continues to happen, even after the initial injury has healed and they are pain free.  They worry, sometimes subconsciously, that they might have pain again anytime they move.  That anticipation of pain induces a change in their protective postural adjustment strategy.

It’s important because the change in posture puts the back under excessive load.  While general spinal splinting may be beneficial in the short term to protect against re-injury, in the long term it reduces spinal flexibility which is important for normal function and the dampening of reactive forces.  Biomechanically, it imparts an increased compressive load on spinal structures that accelerates degeneration of tissue and stimulates pain receptors.  In the long run, splinting actually predisposes to more injury rather than protecting against it.

In other words, the mind’s altered response to arm or leg movement when anticipating pain may not be a problem initially.  It may even help to protect an acutely injured back.  But if it becomes a long term habit, which it does in many people, it causes chronic back pain. Thinking that you are going to have back pain actually causes it.  It turns into a self-fulfilling prophecy of the mind.

In Yoga, we learn to tame the mind.  It’s been validated by science that with mind control we can alter our blood pressure, heart rate and muscle contractions.  If you want a holistic and effective way to heal, try Yoga for back pain.

Most cases of sudden acute back pain will resolve on their own in six to eight weeks no matter what intervention is chosen – even if you simply do nothing except go about daily activities as much as possible. Most ‘slipped’ discs also self heal on their own through the power of nature without any surgery. Help the body to heal through Yoga rather than fight it with fear, anxiety and increased muscle tension.


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