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What Works For Your Neighbor, May Not Work For You

Recently of my patients said to me, “It’s amazing how many of my friends and neighbors have their opinions of what may fix my back”. Indeed, our caring family and friends do not want to see us suffering, and they may think they have discovered the cure for everyone’s back pain through either a great practitioner, surgeon, or even a late night QVC purchase. When you are in pain, it is tempting to try everything under the sun to get better.

While we are starting to understand more and more about pain, the truth is there is still a lot we don’t understand about pain. Two people with very similar MRI reports, with the same diagnosis will easily present very differently. One is debilitated, while the other has minimal to no pain. Therefore, seeking help to identify your specific needs towards recovery is imperative.


Trying many things at once

When designing a research study, we do our best to eliminate extra variables, so we can draw a connection between what we are studying and its effects. Because pain is so complex and there are so many different causes for pain, we must try to employ the same scientific method when determining the best strategy to manage your pain. Therefore it is best to start with one theory, test it out, and then adjust your treatment as needed as the evidence mounts.

If I give a patient only one thing to do, and they come back and report improvement, I can feel fairly confident that the one thing has a positive impact on their recovery. Alternately, if they come back worse, it gives me information about where to go to find the right approach.

For that reason, when I am working with patients and trying to improve their function, I will start by trying my best to eliminate as many factors as I can. If you are doing Yoga, spinning, core exercises and stretching all at the same time, I won’t know what is either getting you better or keeping you from improving. And it is possible that some of those things could be making you worse. We won’t know that until we limit the variables and assess their effects. Just because these things are supposed to help people, this does not mean it will help you.

When you are trying to alleviate your pain, you must pay attention to it and how activities affect your pain levels. This is so hard for many of us, as we try so hard to forget about the pain in an effort to continue to function. However, if function is affected by your pain ( ie work, exercise, sleep is disturbed) then the only way to successfully get out of this pattern is to pay attention to your pain, and learn to understand what things make you worse, and what things make you better.

Because our most reliable variable is pain and function, using this as our guide is the best measure we have to assess improvement. Therefore, if you are tempted try what your neighbor thinks might work, consider instead starting by talking to your physical therapist, and let them assess and evaluate your situation so they can design a program that suits your specific needs.

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