This episode is entitled “How can low back pain be due to stress?”
There is a bit of neurobiology in here, but Gavin does his best to use metaphors so that anyone can follow along. (Although he does tie himself in knots a little at times, so be aware – his explanations aren’t perfect!!)
There is reference to The Pain Equation. You can find out all about The Pain Equation here: https://backpainandsciatica.com/5-why-does-my-lower-back-hurt-so-much-part-1-being-stung-by-a-wasp/
Pain = Nociception – Movement Without Pain + (Negative Outlook – Positive Outlook) + Attention To Body Part + Previous Volume of Pain
If you want much more personalised help – and to join thousands of others getting relief and prevention of low back pain and sciatica – you can start right now by getting a free online assessment. And we have a mini video course entitled “How to sleep with low back pain / sciatica”.
If you haven’t listened to Episodes 1-6 – our foundation episodes – please go back and start at the beginning! It will lay the foundation for you to make a long-term, sustainable recovery. And if you’d like a free online assessment of lower back pain / sciatica, just click the link. It will provide you with a guide as to whether you need to see a doctor or not, which exercises are most likely to relieve your particular pain, and a whole load more tips on recovering from and preventing lower back pain / sciatica.
This is the active ex back show from Edinburgh, Scotland, vibrant capital hosted by award-winning registered osteopath author and all round paying guru. Gavin rout pledge. If you want relief or prevention of lower back pain or sciatica, and you want to be healthier, keep listening. The following program should not be taken as medical advice, but for informational purposes only, hello. Hello,
Active XR. Welcome back to the active mix banks podcast. And in this episode, I am answering the question, how can low back pain be due to stress? The original question I had was can low back pain be due to stress, but that would be a very short episode because the answer would simply be yes. So I thought it would be perhaps a little bit more helpful to you. If we elaborated the question a little bit, extended it to how can low back pain be due to stress because the answer is yes, of course it can. But how now I’ve wrestled with this for a while before just deciding to crack on and record this episode, because this is an immensely complex subject, but I’m trying to simplify it here. So we’re all about neurobiology in this episode. So dig deep and prepare yourself for a ride into neurobiology.
No, I thought I’d start by seeing that it would be helpful to reframe stress as psychological pain or rather let’s go a little bit deeper. So if you’ve listened to episodes, one to six on the active X-Box podcast previously you’ll know that, um, pain is a complex sensation is not due to somebody let’s say sticking a pin in your back and you feel pain. Um, the, what you experienced down at the level of the pin is called nociception. So you have little nerve endings called Noosa receptors that detect that pin being inserted. They send a message up to the spinal cord. Spinal cord sends a message up to the brain and the brain then interprets all of these sensory input and other input and processes that it has going on and either will give you pain or not. So within that framework, I think it’s going to be helpful to think about stress as no susception.
So nociception is that detection of a noxious substance in this case of Penn and stress is the detection of, uh, if you like, um, a psychological stress or, okay. So if stress is nociception, then distress is pain. So we can have stress, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be a thing. So stress goes on in our lives all the time. Even if you, in fact, particularly if you isolate yourself in a little bubble, uh, and have nothing going on that in itself is a stress or, but whether it is distressing to you or not depends on all sorts of factors, okay? I feel like I’m messing this up already, but I’m going to play on. So nociception is a physical thing and stress is a psychological thing. Pain is a physically perceived perception. There is a physical perception and distress is a psychological perception perception.
Okay, I’ll say that again. So nociception is a physical, uh, physical input. Stress is a psychological input. Physical pain is a physical sensation and distress is a psychological sensation. Okay. Now, uh, why have I labored through this? Because the two systems have very significant overlap in parts of your brain, and I’m just going to broad brush this and call it the limbic system. So it’s all of these centers are not in the limbic system, but we have the amygdala, the thalamus, the hippocampus prefrontal cortex, which is definitely not in your limbic system, but all of these parts of the brain take part in the processing of both physical pain and psychological pain sort of distress. All of these centers are involved in both systems. So what does that actually mean at a neuronal level? So at a very, very microscopic level, we can see that when you experience physical pain, there are neurons within nerve cells that light up for what we call fire. They send a little electrical impulses, and those are the same neurons that fire when you experience psychological distress or pain. So you literally have the same neurons active in both processes.
So, oh, no, take a deep breath Garmin. So all of these neurons, these nerve cells have an electrical lab, a level of electrical activity in the mouth all times. So your nervous system is made up of Watts of electrical impulses, passing along these, um, long, thin nerve fibers. Um, okay. I’m not going to go into those, uh, that will just take me into a rabbit hole. So all of these neurons have common purposes or core common uses between psychological pain, distress and physical pain. Okay. Let’s, let’s start again. Let’s do this differently. So here’s a different metaphor for you. Let’s say you have a house and the house has lots of rooms in it. And in every room, there is a light bulb. Now in most houses, when you turn on a light in one room, there is no effect on the light bulb in the next room or any of the other rooms, because each circuit is isolated.
There’s an isolating switch. So although there’s electricity running right through the whole house to supply all those different light bulbs, there are these blocks called isolators that stop electricity running to the next light bulb when it’s not required. And the, what you’re doing when you put switch on is you’re removing that isolation. You’re allowing electric current to flow on. Now, your brain generally speaking, doesn’t have these isolating switches, the electricity is running throughout. Okay. So let’s go back to the house. So you’ve got all these light bulbs and let’s see pain. So let’s see, let’s take a little back pain. So low back pain is experienced when the light bulb in the sitting room, the kitchen and bedroom one all go on at the same time. That’s what penis or again, this is called neural matrix. So every pain experience that you have has a specific set of nerve cells, all firing all lighting up at the same time and in our house.
Or did I say sitting room, kitchen, and bedroom. One is back pain. So when those light bulbs all go on together, you get back pain. But I don’t know, uh, the stress stress at work, let’s say the distress that you experienced at work, sometimes that experience at a neurological level is equal to the light going on in bedroom, one bedroom, two and the bathroom. Okay. Um, I’m gonna struggle to remember all these different rooms now. So you’ve got that stress going on at work. You’re feeling distressed and that causes bedroom one bedroom, two, and the bathroom lights all to be firing. So they’re all firing, but guess what? There’s no isolation between bedroom one, the sitting room and the kitchen lights. So because the bedroom one light is on the sitting room, light comes on and the kitchen light comes on and you experienced back pain.
I don’t know about you, but I’m quite liking this metaphor. It may be making absolutely no sense to you at all, but I’m going to run with it. So you can tell, I just made this up on the spot. So let’s go back through that again. You’re experiencing stress at work at a neurological level stress at work equates to the lights and bedroom, one bedroom, two, and the bathroom going on, but because there’s no isolating switch between bedroom one, the sitting room and the kitchen, those lights come on too. And so you experienced back pain at the same time. Okay. It’s a lot to take in. Isn’t it to be fair on me and my hastily, me dot metaphors. This is roughly helping works. There is a huge overlap between the different circuits involved in distress, psychological pain and physical pain. And that’s how back pain can be due to stress. [inaudible]
sorry. I’m quite pleased with myself. Um, I, I don’t know whether that I’m going to keep using this metaphor of the lights in the house, um, for representing different neurons firing. I knew it as a big simplification and any neurobiologists listening into this will be scratching and said, thinking, what is this mad osteopath talking about? Um, but equally I’d like to think that new abolish just if he was being honest and kind, or she was being honest, and Kane would admit that I am referencing real science here. This is not just made up. Okay. So this is how low back pain can be due to stress. There is a bigger overlap between the circuits related to psychological pain, distress and physical pain. And I covered them earlier. The amygdala, the thumbless, the hippocampus, the prefrontal cortex, all of them are involved in both processes. So you have these common pathways, and that’s why you may experience more low back pain when you’re under stress than when you are not under psychological stress.
And I don’t know about you, but I have certainly experienced this. I have had many clients tell me the same thing sometimes with a little bit of prodding, you know, you get that kind of flare up in pain, and you’re not really sure why, because you haven’t done anything different physically. You can’t see what’s triggered it. But then if you think about it with a little bit encouragement from me, if you think about life as a whole, well, you know, you’ve got some exams coming up or, um, a family member has become ill or a family members coming to visit you, or, you know, there’s some kind of psychological stress or active. And that acts, as I often see as a tremendous volume control on your pain. So now it is worth stressing here. That stress is only one variable in the PN equation. And if you don’t know what I’m talking about with the peanut region and go back to episodes five and six of the active X-Box podcast and listen in on the peanut equation.
Stress is definitely one of the variables than I often say to people, okay, isn’t stress that caused your back problem, but stress will act as a volume control on the amount of pain that you feel. There are other variables in that pain equation, not least the amount of attention you give things. And of course the other ones being movement, movement is super important. But anyway, go back to the episodes five and six of the podcast, if you want more on the peanut equation. So I hope I have succeeded in not completely befuddling and the music, but actually helping you to understand how low back pain can be due to stress. Okay. As ever, if you would like a free assessment, please go to back pain and saska.com, do the free assessment there. And, um, I’m sure there will be some resources there that will help you to gain relief and prevention of your lower back pain and Saska. That’s what we’re all after anyway, isn’t it. And of course, to remain active for life.
If you’d like a free online assessment of lower back pain / sciatica, click the link.