I read an article last week published in Harvard Health Publications that caught my attention. Recent studies have been fine that most chronic back pain is not associated with injury or disease, but more closely associated with our thoughts, emotions, and the behavior that follows.
There simply isn’t a close connection between the condition of the spine and whether or not people experience pain. Research has shown that a majority of people who have never had any significant back pain have the very same “abnormalities” (such as bulging or herniated spinal discs) that are frequently blamed for chronic back conditions. And then there are the millions of people with severe chronic back pain who show no structural abnormalities in their back at all.
On top of this, it turns out that people in developing countries, who do back-breaking labor and don’t have easy access to medical treatment, have much fewer incidents of chronic back pain than people in the developed world who sit in ergonomically designed chairs, sleep on fancy mattresses, and have ready access to spinal imaging, surgery, and medications.
The article goes on to say that clinicians and researchers have been looking into the psychological causes of pain and in a landmark study in The Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers found that both mindfulness training and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) are both effective solutions for relieving chronic back pain.
This thrilled me as an Alexander Technique teacher. When a client comes to me for Alexander Technique sessions due to back pain, there are often some surprising revelations that a back pain sufferer discovers. Often, the development of the kinesthetic sense, or body awareness, gives my clients the ability to observe painful patterns of tightening and tensing muscles, destablilizing their posture and holding their breath in response to pain. The tensing of muscles and holding of the breath worsens the pain.
Then also become highly aware of their emotional response to pain. Frustration, fear, worry, anger, despair are all emotions that lead to chronic clenching of the neck, jaw, fists, chest, upper back, and abdominal muscles. The clenching of these muscles leads to more pain. (There has been a study published that demonstrated that Alexander Technique and acupuncture unravel neck pain as well)
In Alexander Technique sessions, we even start to identify habitual emotional responses to pain.
So many of my clients get angry at themselves when they are in pain.
Anger leads to more clenching. More clenching leads to more pain. Becoming aware of emotions like anger and aware of the impact anger has on the body is essential for releasing the emotions and releasing the body.
There have been numerous clients who, once they release the musculature around the belly, low ribs, and diaphragm, they cry deeply and loudly. I encourage the crying and the emotional release. Letting go of old emotions that get stored in the body leads to pain relief, stress relief, and complete liberation of breathing. It takes an extraordinary amount of muscular effort to hold these emotions in the body.
The Harvard Health article recommends reading books about mindfulness and CBT or visiting a pain clinic where they are offered. You can also look into the mindfulness training of Alexander Technique during which you become highly aware of your body and your body’s responses, and then, learn how to release those painful patterns and calm your SELF, you nervous system, and your musculature.