Lower back pain considered to be the world’s leading cause of disability, affecting some 10% of the population. Yet have you ever wondered if feeling lower back pain means that it really exists, or could it possibly be in the person’s mind? That’s exactly what researchers from the University of South Australia’s School of Health Sciences in Adelaide set out to explore.
The research team shared the findings of the study they conducted in the July 2017 issue of Scientific Reports. Motivated by the fact that those who have lost a limb often feel pain in the missing limb. They wanted to test whether or not the people were actually feeling the pain they reported to have on their lower back. To conduct the research, then they recruited 15 people who reported having chronic lower back pain. And 15 people who were healthy who didn’t have lower back pain (1).
The researchers reported in their study that there’s growing evidence that pain is highly modulated by a wide range of cognitive and contextual variables. In other words, such things as sounds, images, and even hot and cold stimulus can produce effects whether or not think we are feeling pain and how bad the pain. Even stiffness in the back may seem. To test this, they took measurements from several tests.
They used a device that used on humans that applies pressure to the spine and in turn, can measure the amount of stiffness that results.
Through each of the three rounds of tests, the participants asked to report how much stiffness felt in their lower back. The research team reported those with chronic back pain and stiffness tend to overestimate the amount of force that applied to their back, thus they believe was a protective measure. It’s believed that they do this in order to avoid movement. The results confirmed what the researchers suspected from the start, which was that feeling stiff when you have chronic lower back pain doesn’t mean you actually are stiff.
This is important information for those who may have chronic lower back pain, as well as those who help to provide treatment. Since lower back pain often associated with disability, those providing pain management may want to focus more on the mental aspect. Rather than putting all the focus on the back itself. By showing the patient that their feelings of stiffness don’t relate to there being a biomechanical stiffness, they can begin to change their thoughts, which should help bring about some relief for their chronic lower back pain.
1. Scientific Reports. Feeling stiffness in the back: a protective perceptual inference in chronic back pain. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-017-09429-1