Back Pain Clinic Principle 3 – “The body can heal itself”

Back Pain Clinic Principle 3 – “The body can heal itself”

The technical term is “homeostasis“.  The body will attempt to return to its normal healthy state. As an Osteopath in Edinburgh for the last 27 years, I’ve spent most of my time helping people’s bodies to establish their homeostatic normal.  This principle is one of the original founding principles of osteopathy – the body is capable of self-regulation and self-healing.

How does Back Pain Clinic Principle 3 work?

Your body has many many feedback loops in it.

First it has cells that are specially adapted to sensing very specific things.  Like damage, or high temperatures, or cold, or physical pressure.  These are sensory systems.

Then it has communications systems.  Like your nervous system, your hormonal system and your circulatory system.

And of course it has systems for changing the internal or external environment in response to the messages carried in those communications systems. We call these the “effectors”, because they effect changes.  As the environment changes, the sensing parts detect, this which then continues the feedback loop.

Back Pain Clinic Principle 3 in detail

Sensory systems

Perhaps the most relevant part of your sensory systems are nociceptors.  Nociceptors are little nerve endings distributed throughout your body that respond to noxious input. They are what a lot of people refer to as pain nerve endings.  However, if we were being neurologically precise, there are no such things as “pain nerves”.  They are nociceptors.  These nerves fire when the nociceptor endings are exposed to certain inputs.  This can be high temperature or very low temperature.  Or extreme pressures – like when someone squeezes you hard or punches you. They can also fire in response to changes in concentrations of some chemicals. Inflammation and its very early chemicals (which are released as soon as tissue is damaged) can stimulate nociceptors to fire.

Communications systems

Nociceptors feed into your spinal cord and then your brain.  The activity of these pathways feed forward to affect the Effector systems.  Your circulatory system and hormonal system are widespread communication systems.  Of course, all of these communications systems communicate with one another too.

Effector systems

Internal effectors can be found in your immune system.  It has cells that scavenge dead or damaged cells (e.g. macrophages).  There are other cells that are responsible for laying down new tissue of almost every type.  So if you have damaged muscle, there are myoblasts that make new muscle cells.  There are fibrocytes that lay down new collagen which is a big part of cartilage.  You also have osteoblasts that lay down new bone, and chondroblasts that lay down other parts of your cartliage. All of these processes continue throughout life so long as you have sufficient nutrition and are not chronically stressed.

External effectors include muscles.  When you experience pain some muscles prepare for flight.  This is to remove you from the source of threat.  Note that if you don’t get away from the threat (and the painful thing), your stress levels climb which heightens your pain perception.


So you have the ability to heal yourself of most traumas.  This is not the same as saying you can return to your pre-injury state.  You can recover from injury, but things are likely to be subtly different depending on what you damaged. If you cut your finger moderately deeply, you can see the scar many years later.  It’s subtly different.  If you prolapse a disc, it is visible that this damage has occurred years after the pain has resolved. But yes, so long as you don’t “get in the way”, your body can recover from most damage.

Don’t get in the way – “Don’t pick the scab”

The most likely reason for not healing is that you are doing things that prevent or dramatically slow-up healing processes. If you’ve had a recent injury your best guide is pain.  If it hurts, don’t do it.  What I have seen a lot of with lumbar disc prolapses and sciatica treatment is that people are doing things that prevent the disc from healing fully.  They do too much too soon. This is akin to “picking the scab” before it has dropped off.  “Don’t pick the scab” you will hear me say.  Give your body time to heal.  And the best over-all rule to guide you is my “Use it or lose it, but don’t abuse it” rule.

If you’d like tailored help in-person or via skype consultation, or to see “an osteopath near me“,  book an appointment with an Edinburgh osteopath. Or call us on 0131 221 1415 to arrange to see one of the team.

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