Thinking Your Back Pain Away
Lower back pain is built into the human body. Eons ago, our ancestors walked on all fours. It’s been a long time since humans switched to two-legged ambulation, but our backs haven’t fully adjusted yet. Evolution may be relentless, but it’s not always smooth.
In the US, 8% of all adults have persistent recurring or chronic back pain that lasts 12 weeks or longer. Almost 80% of us will have back pain at some point in our lives.
In apes, the spine is rigid. That makes their anatomy suitable for living in trees.
Human spines are rotated 90% to be vertical for walking on two legs, and they’re flexible. An anatomist at Case Western University once told an audience that the change to the flexible, upright posture was like stacking 26 cups and saucers on top of each other then putting a head on top.
The heavy head means the spine has to curve to balance it.
But that heavy head might also help overcome back pain… if you use it to meditate.
A study conducted by the Group Health Cooperative in Seattle and the University of Washington has gotten good results with a drug-free program of meditation and cognitive therapy.
The benefits seem to come from the fact that meditation turns the mind away from the hurt and concentrates elsewhere.
A group of 342 volunteers were included in the randomized, controlled, interview-blind trial. That means the results are highly credible.
All the participants were age 20 to 70 and had chronic low back pain before the trial. Over a period of 8 weeks, one group got the usual care for back pain. The other group got cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which helped them change their thoughts about pain, or MBSR—meditation and yoga.
At the end, the MBSR and CBT groups saw their back pain go down measurably—even more than those who were treated with standard medical approaches. CBT patients achieved a 44% drop in pain and MBSR participants saw a 43% decrease.
What is good about the experiment is that it could help you avoid turning back pain into an even bigger problem. If you have back pain—and we know the odds are good that you will at some time—using your brain won’t put any harmful chemicals in your system. Long-term use of analgesics like aspirin and ibuprofen that are the main tools in treating back pain and are associated with gastric stress and kidney problems.
Meditation is easy to practice at home. Despite courses that charge hundreds of dollars, it’s not really that hard.
Sit quietly and concentrate on your breath. In---out---in—out. Only focus on breath, nothing else. If you like, you can count to four while breathing in, four while pausing, then four while breathing out. If your mind wanders, you simply return to focusing on your breath.
You might find your back feels better gradually. It’s almost a given that the meditation will bring additional calming, focus, and attention span benefits.