13/01/2014 Gavin

Mindfulness for lower back pain

“Mindfulness for lower back pain? What’s that about?” I hear you say.  “What is he on about this time?  I just have a sore lower back.  I need my joints manipulated, not my mind!”  … let me elaborate.

‘Mindfulness’ is the practice of using your awareness to deal more positively with stress and pain (and other things).  It was originally promoted by Jon Kabat-Zinn, Professor of Medicine Emeritus at the University of Massachusetts, who has said that no matter what illness or disease you have, so long as you are living there is more right with you than there is wrong.  Those of you whose glass is always half empty may find this hard to hear.  But, as you know, I’m a sucker for the science – and believe me, the science really stacks up here.  Mindfulness for Health by Vidyamala Burch and Danny Penman lists 9 pages of scientific references, many of them demonstrating the value of mindfulness for those suffering pain.  The authors lay out a plan to help sufferers of pain and stress to improve their situation.  The book includes a CD of guided meditations, and having just finishing reading it, I recommend it to anyone suffering ongoing pain or symptoms related to stress (just about everything you can think of!!).

Why does what is essentially a “mind-therapy” work for lower back pain?  Broadly speaking because the mind and body are part of the same unit.  Medical science accepts more and more the interplay between mind and body.  The current recommended medical model for dealing with chronic (long-lasting) pain is the “Biopsychosocial model” i.e. looking at the physical biology (the different bits of your body), but also having regard for the psyche and the sufferer’s social circumstances.   Just manipulating a chronically painful lower back (or anything else) rarely leads to a long-term solution, unless accompanied by an understanding of the interplay of mind and body.  I’ve blogged before on the effect your mental attitude can have on pain.

I have a couple of patients at the moment who spring to mind; both of them have suffered pain for many years; both have consulted numerous physical therapists and other health professionals; both give stories of frustratingly persistent, but varying levels of pain; both admit to having “bad times” mentally and emotionally; both take medication sporadically but have given up hope that it will help.  Alarmingly, none of the clinicians they have consulted has discussed the complexities of pain with them; each clinician has had one hammer and seems to have seen the usual nails, hit them, then left the patient feeling that there’s no hope.  Mindfulness is a great place to start.. try it!  Remember, if you’re reading this there’s more right with you than there is wrong with you!

If you’d like to discuss this or any other aspect of pain with me, just drop a comment or email me

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