What Really Defines “Chronic” Low Back Pain?

Do you have low back pain that has lasted for a while? There may be some simple things you can do to help manage this! According to research, the best option in most cases is going to see a physical therapist. A Physical Therapist will evaluate and treat the source of your pain, thereby improving function.

Chronic back pain is often defined as back pain that lasts longer than three months. There is a growing amount of scientific research that says that learning about the neuroscience behind your experience of pain can help you go through the day with less difficulty from your back pain. Practicing relaxation or diaphragmatic breathing, and beginning an aerobic exercise program (doing activities such as walking, jogging, and swimming) for 30 minutes per day, 5 days per week can also help your back pain.

The goal is to reduce back pain and improve function. When pain is chronic, the pain you experience is no longer indicating tissue damage, but rather your brain’s perception of a need to protect the tissue. This may be more easily understood using the analogy of a home alarm system. Initially when you injured your back, some tissue such as a ligament, tendon, nerve or muscle was hurt, and your nervous system acted as the alarm to let you know that something was wrong by making it feel painful. Over time, that tissue has healed, but your nervous system, or the body’s alarm system, has not calmed down and you still experience the same pain. This happens in about ¼ of people, and may be due to other factors such as stress, anxiety, failed treatments, lost hope, etc. This over-sensitive alarm system now has less tolerance for activities than it used to, and the alarm will go off (you will have pain) with even simple movements or activities that before your injury were not painful.

To help teach your “alarm system” or nervous system to become should consider an evaluation from a physical therapist to determine what type of corrective exercises should be performed. Hand –on treatment is also very important for, practice relaxation, and perform diaphragmatic breathing. Physical therapists can also help by creating a program of specific exercises and massage or other hands-on treatment techniques specific to your body and your experiences with back pain that may help you feel better, and get there more quickly than what you can do on your own.