Breaking 3 Common Myths about Pack Pain

Myth 1: The level of pain is directly related to the injury itself

With sophisticated scanning equipment now available, it’s becoming apparent that the severity of the pain can even be totally unrelated to the severity of the original injury. “Our behaviors as well as our emotional state changes the chemistry in our nervous system thus either enhancing or diminishing our pain. With this new, much more complex concept of what pain is, we can then understand that there are many other approaches that may help manage the chronic pain…” “In addition to addressing the physical components of pain, it is important not to overlook the emotional consequences of chronic pain. Anger, frustration, and depression will alter your neurochemistry to actually increase your pain. However, with a combination of meditation, breathing techniques, and psychological counseling to teach coping strategies, these emotional consequences can be effectively treated.” – Ward Gypson, M.D. Associate Professor, University of California. In a study using a Buddhist 8-week Loving-Kindness meditation for 43 chronic low back pain sufferers, those who did the meditation demonstrated significant pain reduction compared to no improvement for those undergoing a conventional care program.* Many studies are now demonstrating what visionaries like Louise L. Hay have discovered through working with hundreds of people: that pain is as much a consequence of our emotional and mental states as to a specific injury.

Myth 2: It’s important to have a flexible lower back and hamstrings, or extremely strong lumbar and abdominal muscles

There is no scientific evidence to show that lumbar mobility is correlated with having a healthy back. Extremely strong lumbar/abdominal muscles are also not correlated with back health. There is also no scientific support for stretching the hamstrings with both legs at once to prevent lower back pain, and in most cases the tightness in hamstrings is as much neural tightness as soft-tissue tightness. The hamstrings should only be stretched asymmetrically (as in the Yoga Asana Supta Padangusthasana 1). Commonly handed out exercises like hugging the knees to the chest may be helpful in rare cases where achiness is due only to the lumbar being very stiff, but on the whole, this only keeps the pain receptors in that area happy for a short while before pain returns even more severely, and for most people, this will just exacerbate lower back problems arising from too much flexion in that area already. So what is correlated with back health? Endurance (from doing cat balances) and hip strength, hip mobility and better lower-back stability. Those with more stiffness in the spine are better off than those with lumbar flexibility. However, hip mobility and strength, shoulder mobility, and also strong legs are all very important. The cat stretch works well because it is a movement exercise, not a stretch. Dr Stuart McGill and Dr Eric Cobb have shown that the endurance and coordination of the lower back are better goals than the strength of the lower back for preventing back injuries. For more information on all of the above see Low Back Disorders and Ultimate Back Fitness and Performance by Dr Stuart McGill, Professor of Spine Biomechanics at University of Waterloo.

Myth 3: Sit-ups or Double Leg Raises will help strengthen the abdominals and protect the lower back

Through studies of EMG activation, we now know that these exercises strongly engage the hip flexors and create very high spine compression. Even some sit ups that have been thought to inhibit the psoas muscle have actually been found to increase its activation (Juker, 1998). Ideally, we would like to increase stability with without creating high spine compression. Also, many people with chronic lower back pain already have tight psoas muscles and evidently sit-ups, and especially double-leg raises, can aggravate this. If this wasn’t enough, your abdominal muscles are meant to be stabilisers, not levers, and repetitive exercises like this work them as levers, increasing the chance of strong but over-tight muscles that are out of natural balance. There are plenty of intelligent ways to improve your strength, such as: Pelvic tilt holds, Cat Balance and “Setu Bandha” (Bridge Pose), and if you’re looking for more: Plank, Side Bridge and Side Plank (see “Ultimate Back Fitness and Performance” by Stuart McGill). You’ll also come across these strengtheners in a general yoga class in the form of  “Plank” and “Vashistasana”.

Join the Healthy Happy Back tribe here  or come and visit me at alisoneastland.com for more information and free Yoga resources for relief from back pain, with a welcome pack that includes :

  • 10 Tips for a Resilient Pain Free Back E-Booklet
  • 3 Restorative Yoga Poses for Back Pain Relief
  • a Breath Mindfulness audio recording, an audio guide to standing with grace & ease in good posture
  • short videos of 2 releasing poses that are essential for a healthier, happier back 

Check out my  Healthy Happy Back E-Course for manageable step-by step techniques that you can choose from and slowly incorporate into your daily life. It’s completely suitable for beginners and anyone willing to slow down and take a gentle, easeful approach to rediscovering a healthier, happier back.

*Loving-Kindness Meditation for Chronic Low Back Pain: James W. Carson, Ph.D., Francis J. Keefe, Ph.D., Thomas R. Lynch, Ph.D., Kimberly M. Carson, M.P.H., R.Y.T., Veeraindar Goli, M.D., and Anne Marie Fras M.D., from Duke University Medical Center and Steven R. Thorp, Ph.D. from VA San Diego Healthcare System. Journal of Holistic Nursing, Vol. 23, No. 3, 287-304 (2005)

3 replies

  1. Thank you for posting this. Since coming across McGill’s research I’ve started questioning every pose I do and it makes my regular yoga classes quite tricky. Yoga Journal seems to be ignoring his research which is a great shame as I’d like to see responses from the yoga teaching community! Have you modified the postures you teach to remove the poses that threaten the back and what do you exclude/include?

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