The experience of lower back pain can be truly excruciating, and something that is hard to understand for anybody who hasn’t gone through it themselves.
The goal of healthcare professionals in providing care for patients suffering from this type of agony is to solve the problem that’s causing the pain while also providing relief. A new study published in JAMA Neurology has just added a powerful tool in our ability to help patients manage their pain.
People all have different levels of pain tolerance. Two women can have similar labor experiences that feel entirely different from one another, and the same is true of all types of pain, including back pain.
To try to determine why that is the case and whether the reason behind it could be harnessed, researchers in Belgium pursued a research project in which 120 patients with chronic neck and back pain were divided into two different groups going through two entirely different educational experiences.
The first group was provided with a series of exercises along with traditional physical therapy treatments, while the other group was introduced to an in-depth explanation of the relationship between the body and the mind. Their “neuroscience education therapy” included a granular explanation of how neurons and synapses work so that they had a comprehensive understanding of the role that the nervous system plays in chronic pain. They learned about nerve fibers serving as pathways for pain signals between the spinal cord and the brain.
They were also given advice regarding the importance of fitness, including instruction about stretching and correct ergonomics.
After all of the patients had completed their full educational programming, they were all given the same assignments to complete exercises and movements that were both progressively more difficult and purposely designed to evoke a pain response.
Despite the acknowledged challenge, patients were told to push through their pain and to concentrate on the task rather than the sensation or discomfort that they were feeling.
The program for both groups went on for a three-month period. Three months later all of the patients were evaluated, and then re-evaluated again at the one-year mark.
What the researchers found was that the group that had been given the thorough explanation of how pain works were in a much better place, both physically and in terms of their tolerance of the pain that they were experiencing.
Their functionality levels were much higher, they exhibited greater levels of improvement in their abilities, and they self-reported pain half as much as the group that had simply been given physical therapy and exercises. The impact of the educational program lasted through the one-year period.
Speaking of their findings, lead author Anneleen Malfliet said, “We know that worrying and giving attention to pain ultimately increases it. Staying active and moving is better than rest when it comes to chronic back and neck pain.” In the study she wrote, “These positive effects can be attributed to the content of the experimental treatment as participants learn to put pain into the right perspective, to move regularly, and to be physically active. Consequently, participants probably feel empowered, whereas, previously, they viewed pain as a life-controlling factor.”
To learn more about pain management, as well as how we can help you put an end to your pain, contact our office today to set up an appointment.