Back Pain and Learned Helplessness

I don’t think I was clear enough in the post How I Figured Out the Cause of My Back Pain. If you haven’t read it, go do so now.

The point I want to stress is you need to take charge of your own back pain investigation. Don’t assume you know the causes and don’t let someone else take charge of the investigation. By that I mean, the best expert on your back pain is you. It is not a doctor, massage therapist, chiropractor, acupuncturist or a salesperson from The Healthy Back Store.

All those parties profit from your pain. I hate to be cynical, but if they decline to assist you, they are losing money. Not that they are bad people. I think they honestly believe what they offer helps people. And sometimes it does. But surrendering to a pain management expert before you’ve done your own investigation just promotes learned helplessness. What happens the next time pain flares up? And the time after that?

addiction

Addiction by kphotographer

Yes you want your back pain to go away, but the most important riddle is to figure out what caused it in the first place. Simply buying another gadget, taking another pill or surrendering to an “expert” without true reflection is recipe for future pain. If you do the proper investigation, I think you will discover that how you respond to pain influences its intensity, duration and frequency.

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MAS

Critical MAS is the blog for Michael Allen Smith of Seattle, Washington. My interests include traditional food, fitness, economics, and web development.

10 thoughts on “Back Pain and Learned Helplessness”

  1. Perfectly written post, MAS–I couldn’t agree with you more. Don’t give up control of your treatment. My wife has done that and 2 major back surgeries later she barely better off than she was before… not to mention all the pharmaceuticals 🙁

  2. I’m with you 100%. I suffer from hypnic headaches (alarm clock headaches) and my friends and family think it not only the pain that is wrong with my ‘noggin. That is because I have taken ownership of these headaches and ruthlessly have investigated the cause and cure. Let’s be honest, though well-meaning, a doctor is going to scratch his head at my symptoms’ cause but will be quick to know of a remedy in a bottle. I have spent many hours investigating and narrowing down my trigger points where now I have things manageable without the cookie cutter solution, which is just meds. It is important to rule out brain tumor and what not but we shouldn’t roll over to some credentialed without applying critical thinking.

  3. the attitude of take a pill, fix it quick, is prevalent throughout our society. We don’t take the time to get to the root cause and fix the problem, to ensure it doesn’t return. I think whether its back pain management or any other problem (physical health, emotional health, finances) we need to take personal responsibility and make informed decisions…

  4. @Jenn – Absolutely. “Learned helplessness” applies to so many things. We’ve lost the ability to trust ourselves and be comfortable with not being an expert. The consumerist mentality of pulling out our Mastercard to solve every problem makes one less resilient.

  5. Well said. Chiropractic, massage, etc. Can all be very effective with back pain, however if the stress at the source of the pain is not addressed the problem will certainly return.

  6. I’m pretty sure I know what the cause of my back pain is–when visiting a doctor for sciatica like symptoms it was discovered (via x-ray) that I have a extra vertebra.

    Shit, I’ve been in this body for 35 years and I’m just NOW finding that out? So I went to a physical therapist, and after several sessions and a lot of work the sciatica is gone, but now I’ve got a bit of pain in the middle-spine area.

  7. @William – It is common for pain to move once you thwart different pathways. There may be both a physical explanation and a psychological. Hearing that may upset some people, but the brain does use diversion tactics as a response to chronic stress. This is common in people that have control issues or are perfectionists.

  8. Despite the truth that acupuncture could not often offer long term relief, it is accepted that it may often be a source of relief from the immediate symptoms of back pain and sciatica. Really acupuncture should be viewed as being a method of alleviating pain and not thought to be a cure. Nonetheless it must be remembered that pain relief even with out a cure is valuable. It is vital for those that are experiencing serious discomfort or worse, and pain relief in itself might create a helpful climate for a cure by other means.

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