Back Pain and Depression – the Chicken and the Egg

From Consumer Reports, June 2017:  Pain may stem from a physical cause, “But it’s perceived in the brain,” says Robert Kerns, Ph.D., a professor at Yale University. …  “That means that pain can amplify-or even cause- depression and anxiety, and vice versa.“

Clients often ask me to tell them how serious is their muscle dysfunction or tension.  I say that what you feel is more important than what I feel.  To understand your pain and/or anxiety and depression, it helps to look at your whole experience.

We tend to look first for a accident or activity that may have caused pain.  But there are many other questions to ask:  How is your sleep? Your diet?  What kind of stresses are you under?  How are you taking care of yourself? All of these factors affect how painful you experience your muscle tension. Serious, even disabling pain may have a primary cause that is not physical.

Massage therapy can help whether the anxiety and stress caused the pain, or the pain caused the anxiety.

For the complete article, see

Consumer Reports

Causes and Prevention of Back Pain

The June 2017 issue of Consumer Reports featured a comprehensive  look at the causes and treatments of back pain.

The 5 most common causes:

1)  Muscle Injuries:    cause one third of all back pain

2)  Degenerative Disc changes.  This is a normal part of aging, but often does NOT cause pain

3)  Bulging or slipped discs. May cause sciatica.

4)  Spinal Stenosis.  Thickening of bones or ligaments can irritate nerves

5)  Spinal Instability

Strong and healthy core muscles play a big part in preventing and recovering from back pain.  Almost everyone tweaks, sprains, or injures their back at some point in their life.  Stay ahead of the game by getting regular massage and doing core strengthening exercises.

If you do have sudden severe low back pain, it is often a strain of the Quadratus Lumborum muscle. Massage and patience are two keys to surviving the acute stage of this injury.

Options for core strengthening include yoga, physical therapy, swimming, and strength training.  In general, avoid the circuit weight machines because they support your core. You miss the opportunity to balance your whole body.  In worst cases they can lead to exaggerated muscle imbalances.

One of my favorite sources for excellent whole body workouts including beginner and advanced difficulty is Jessica Smith TV.  She has many free videos on YouTube, as well as programs to purchase.

Back pain solutions: keep it simple!

QL in stretchToday’s newspaper reports on a study published this week online in JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) Internal Medicine. The study reviews 24,000 spine problem cases.  Researchers found that doctors often prescribe narcotic painkillers when well-established guidelines for routine back pain recommend non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and physical therapy.  The study also found an increase in premature use of CT and MRI scans when these tests often add little useful guidance to treatment plans.

It’s just human nature: even “routine” back pain can be very painful and motivate both patient and doctor to over medicate and over test. But even the medical establishment has confirmed that simpler is often better. Take this occurrence as a learning opportunity to consult your chiropractor, massage therapist, and/or physical therapist and personal trainer.  Find out the likely cause of your discomfort, to get treatment that addresses the cause rather than masking the symptoms, and learn changes you can make to avoid future pain. These are often simple adjustments to your office sitting posture or sleeping posture, (beware slumpers and stomach sleepers!) or adding a few core strengthening exercises to your daily routine.

I have found that massage therapy working specifically with key core muscles like the psoas, the quadratus lumborum, the erector spinae, and the abdominal and gluteal muscles can help relieve many cases of acute and chronic back pain and even sciatica.  The quadratus lumborum muscle is a classic culprit in low back spasms, and can act up with little warning and seemingly little provocation. Typical triggering events could be a few extra long days working at the computer, or twisting and lifting something as innocuous as a bag of groceries.

So instead of reaching for the oxycontin, call your massage therapist or chiropractor. Emergency appointments are often available. See my network page for practitioner referrals:  My Network