Our bodies are remarkable in their efforts to protect us, and one of the ways that it does this is through muscular bracing. Let me explain what I mean by this through a personal example, The Speed Bump.
My back pain started after an auto accident back in 1988. I was a passenger in a car that was hit twice on the drivers’ side and reacted at the time by bracing my arms and legs against the car windows and floor. After that event, I was a pretty nervous passenger for quite some time.
In the days, then years, after the accident, my brain told my body that it had to protect itself. During the accident this was an all-out stress response, but subsequently it was in more subtle ways. When I was a passenger, I would get nervous and my brain kept telling my muscles to brace for impact by tightening my back muscles.
This showed up in other ways, as I continued to tell myself that there was some terrible damage and that I had to protect myself from further harm. One of the ways that this pattern continued was when I would go over speed bumps.
I suppose that it started when, after the accident, I went over a speed bump while bracing. This bracing caused muscle tension, which made my back tighten up and thus less functional. So, I felt pain. Then, I told myself that speed bumps hurt my back and braced even more each time I went over one.
The pattern that was set in motion in 1988 continued for almost 20 years until I realized what was going on. It was not the speed bump that was hurting me; it was my response to the speed bump that caused the pain.
So, I changed how I responded and instead consciously relaxed my muscles and breathed when going over speed bumps and guess what? No pain.
I find it interesting that the body can be so protective, to the point where this protection mechanism can become the cause of pain. This also happens in other physiological processes, such as when it repairs skin after a cut, forming a scar, or when it responds to a foreign substance with a histamine (allergenic) effect.
It is important to understand this process and ask yourself, what am I protecting myself from? Think of things that you believe hurt your back. If you’ve had chronic back pain for awhile, this may be a pretty long list. Then ask yourself if this is really the cause of pain, if this activity is truly causing damage to you, or if it may simply be your body’s response that is to blame.
Keeping this in mind, select one activity that you believe causes you pain and take control of your body’s response to the activity. In many cases, if you simply relax and breathe, you will find that the activity doesn’t actually cause the pain.
It may take some time to change this pattern. Your body is very good at protecting itself and this protection mechanism may be pretty well ingrained. But it can be changed, first with consciously thinking about how you wish to respond and overriding your body’s instincts. Over time, you will train your brain to respond by relaxing instead of tightening muscles and to breathe. You will teach your body that there is no longer a threat.
The laser spine and pain management doctors are always vocal in their opinion that muscular bracing should be avoided not only for back pain but it can be fatal to the brain as well.