Is Back Sense Right For You?

The Back Sense program is suitable for almost anyone suffering from pain in the back or neck, as well as related pain that is felt in the legs or arms, that has lasted for more than a couple of months. While we use the term "back" throughout the book, the treatment principles we outline apply equally well to most neck pain. We say "almost anyone" because there are a very small number of chronic back pain cases that are caused by some kind of underlying medical problem that requires special attention. This is an exception to the rule that affects only about one in two hundred people.

Health care professionals make a distinction between acute and chronic back pain. Usually acute back pain means pain lasting less than two or three months, while chronic means lasting longer. It is something of an oversimplification, but acute back pain may be primarily a bodily problem, whereas chronic back pain involves mind as much as body. Often, acute back pain is caused by common injuries such as muscle strains. These usually heal on their own in a month or two. While the principles we describe can help prevent acute back pain from turning into chronic back pain, they are designed especially for people whose pain has persisted. If your pain has lasted for at least two months and doesnít seem to be getting better, you are probably getting caught in the chronic back pain syndrome caused by muscle tension.

Chronic back pain comes in many forms. Some of our patients have suffered with the problem for just a few months, while others have struggled with pain for several decades. For some it has been merely annoying, for others completely disabling.

We want to emphasize the fact that stress-related chronic back pain often begins with an acute physical injury. This can be due to an accident, overuse of muscles, or strain.

Sometimes the pain begins during an unremarkable action such as cleaning the house or playing a sport. For a surprising number of people, the pain seems to begin "out of the blue" and isnít directly connected to any single event. Even though there may not be a clear cut event that caused the pain, people try hard to make sense of their pain and tend to search exhaustively for anything damaging that they have engaged in.

People with chronic back pain come from all walks of life. Some have worked at jobs that require physical exertion, while others have sat at desks for many years. Some have been truly athletic, while others were never unusually strong or physically fit.

The diagnoses we see are also very varied. Many have been told that they have a "slipped," "bulging," "herniated," or "degenerated" disk. Others have been told that they have arthritis in the spine, or that their spine is misaligned (subluxations), curved (scoliosis), or otherwise malformed, damaged, or weak. Some of our patients have been told that nothing is wrong with them physically and they must be imagining their pain. They may have been informed that the tests "didnít find anything" or been given a diagnosis such as "idiopathic back pain," which means the same thing. Many of them are simply given pain medication, tranquilizers, or antidepressants and sent on their way. They are often thinking that their doctor hasnít looked hard enough to find what is really wrong with them.

However your pain began, and whatever your diagnosis, chances are that your pain is not due to damage to your spine. Even the fact that tests may have shown something to be out of place or "degenerated" need not be cause for alarm. Similarly, observations about misalignment or bad posture may have nothing to do with your pain. We show you in Back Sense how concerns about being damaged, along with other sources of stress and tension, are enough to cause and maintain your pain. Again, this does not mean that the problem is just psychological. Rather, you will learn how certain beliefs and emotional attitudes can cause you to unknowingly tense muscles, and how muscle tightness and spasms can cause the pain you experience.

It is important to recognize that everyone has stress and tension, and anyone can get caught in the cycle of pain, worry, and stress that causes chronic back pain. The demands of modern life subject all of us to an astounding variety of stressors.

While we emphasize the role of stress in the problem, it is important to realize that we are not suggesting that you need to avoid or eliminate stress to succeed with the program. Instead, we teach you ways to cope effectively with the inevitable pressures of life in our society.

Whatever your diagnosis or history, if you find yourself frustrated by your lack of progress in overcoming chronic back pain, this book is indeed for you.