Back Pain, Mind over Matter

Woman with Throbbing Lower Back Pain

Some medical practitioners suggest that back pain can be reduced by practicing mind over matter techniques, such as yoga and tai chi.


There is no doubt that back pain afflicts modern man in epidemic proportions. Other than colds and flu, it is the top reason people visit their medical doctors. It is estimated Americans that suffer from back pain on average spend more than $6000 per year on care and treatment including office visits, X-rays, MRIs, prescription drugs, and surgery. And every year those costs increase.

In recent years, the trend for surgery has lessened as statistics show that 85 percent of people who have surgery will not benefit from the procedures.

According to the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine spending more money has not reduced the suffering. Despite new methodologies and research into reducing pain, the incidents and severity of back pain has remained constant. Some doctors have concluded that treating back pain simply as a structural problem may not be the best approach and suggest incorporating a psychological element into treatment.

It’s commonly accepted by most in the medical field that there is a correlation between mind and body. But little research has been conducted on that relationship when it comes to acute (temporary) or chronic pain. But what data there is has prompted a growing belief that the brain/mind may play a part in persistent pain.

The simple explanation for what is a somewhat complex theory is that the brain perpetuates the pain as a distraction from some kind of emotional issue. This is called distraction pain syndrome and usually the emotions involved are based on stress. It’s well documented how stress can cause other physical ailments such as ulcers, high blood pressure, and headaches so it’s not that great of a leap to assume it could also manifest as back pain.

Research by Dr. Herbert Benson, widely considered the father of modern mind-body medicine, has led to a two-step approach to initiate what he calls the relaxation response, designed to elicit peace of mind and improved health. Prompting the relaxation response produced physiologic changes that were opposite to those caused by stress, including decreased metabolism, lowered blood pressure, and slower heart rate and respiration. The technique has also proven effective in easing anxiety, mild depression, and anger.

According to Benson, there are many activities that can prompt the relaxation response such as prayer, yoga, tai chi, and meditation.

Benson’s work and that of other are adding to a growing body of evidence on the power of relaxation to overall health. On your next visit, talk to your chiropractic practitioner about incorporating such techniques into your overall wellness program.

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