Why Am I In Pain?

I spent 9 years as a practicing chiropractor and saw thousands of patients. After a while, I started to realize that people are more alike than they are different. Most of us have similar problems, similar concerns, and similar questions.

One of the most common questions I used to get had to do with how or why the person ended up in my office. Many people go to the chiropractor and find out that their spine is not nearly as healthy as they assumed. It only makes sense to ask how that happened.

Some people go to bed without back pain and wake up barely able to move. It’s logical to ask why that happened. After all, it doesn’t seem right that someone can injure themselves sleeping. Unfortunately, it happens…a lot.

I’m going to tell you what I used to tell my patients. Hopefully, it will help you better understand your body and how often times people end up in pain. It may also help you better understand what you can do in the future to avoid future problems…or at least less of them. Here goes…

There are two main ways that you can damage your spine: trauma and neglect. Let’s talk about trauma first, since it’s the easiest to understand.

Often the word trauma makes people picture a horrible car accident or some life-threatening experience like what you see on an Emergency Room tv show. Yes, those are traumas. But trauma can be big or small.

Every time a toddler falls learning how to walk…that’s a trauma. That time you bumped your head on the kitchen cabinet…that’s a trauma. That time you slipped on the ice or had a fender-bender in the parking lot…those are all traumas.

It’s easy to understand why your back would hurt after you fall down a flight of stairs. It’s easy to understand why your neck would be sore after totaling your car. But in my experience, most people who go to the chiropractor don’t have a big, ugly trauma that they know is the cause of their pain. Usually, they have a bunch of small traumas in their past that they think are insignificant. It’s those small traumas that cumulatively caused the problem.

If you find yourself in a situation where you hurt your back sleeping, it really wasn’t the sleeping that caused your problem. Whatever you did while you were sleeping was just the final piece of your pain puzzle. The same is true if you just bent over to tie your shoes and “your back went out.” Bending over to tie your shoes wouldn’t have ever caused your pain by itself. Your “back went out” because you added the small stress of bending over to all the other small traumas you have experienced in the past.

But wait…doesn’t my body heal itself? Why would a slip and fall that happened when I was a kid be contributing to my back pain as an adult? Great question! I’m glad you asked.

Yes, your body does heal itself, but certain injuries to your spine (especially significant ones) will make you more susceptible to further injury down the road. Usually, those are the traumas that people remember. People will say, “Ever since I got in that car accident, I haven’t been the same.” Yes, the body healed. No, it’s not as good as new.

That doesn’t explain why slips and falls contribute to your future pain. Slips and falls are not significant because of the severity of the trauma. They are significant because the damage that happens from small trauma is usually ignored and has a tendency to get worse over time. Because our society as a whole is NOT taught what it means to take care of their spine, little problems usually become big problems.

This brings me to the second way that you can damage your spine: neglect. Pretty much everything in life gets worse if you neglect it. You can leave a brand new car out in the middle of a field, and it will be junk in no time. People, plants, animals, things…for the most part, if you neglect them, they get worse.

Your spine is no different. In fact, your spine is a lot like your teeth. You use it every day and if you take good care of it, it will last a lifetime. Most of us are taught to take care of our teeth. We know that going a day or two without brushing probably isn’t a big deal. If you make a habit out of it, your teeth are likely going to look horrible…if you even have any.

You use your spine every day, also. No, you can’t brush your spine. That would be weird, but you can do stretches and exercises to improve spinal strength, flexibility, and mobility. You can become posture conscious and take steps to improve your posture as needed.  Proper posture is not only great for your spine, but it has a variety of amazing health benefits as well.

If you are like most people, you have probably never thought about spinal health. That’s part of the problem. You can’t fix a problem that you don’t know you have. Most people just wait until their back or neck starts hurting before they have someone check their spine. The truth is, unless you recently fell down a flight of stairs or had some other significant trauma, your problem didn’t start when you began having pain. It started long before that.

So what do you do now? Well…my first suggestion is to stop being frustrated with your body. You are not in pain for some unexplainable reason. It’s most likely a combination of trauma (big or small) and neglect. The bigger the trauma, the less time it takes before you start feeling pain. The smaller the trauma, the more time it takes before you start feeling pain.

It’s pretty simple.

My next suggestion is to commit to the process. Healing takes time. Improving posture takes time. Improving flexibility and mobility takes time. There is NO magic pill for this. It just takes time.

Here’s the crazy thing…you will start feeling better before your body has fully healed. You will feel better before your posture is perfect. Your pain will decrease long before you have full mobility, but that doesn’t mean you should stop working on those things.

If you want to really see improvement, jump higher, run faster and stay out of pain longer, I suggest that you make taking care of your spine a regular part of your life. If you’re not sure what that looks like, ask your chiropractor.

I know what you are thinking, “There it is! He wants me to go to the chiropractor 3 times per week for the rest of my life.” No, that’s not what I’m saying. Taking care of your spine doesn’t mean you have to go to the chiropractor for an adjustment every day of the week. It does mean you have to be posture conscious. You need to stretch. You need to do spine-friendly exercises. And YES…you should go to the chiropractor, too. Taking care of spines is what they do.