Two years ago I sponsored an elite NZ Crossfit athlete, Kevin Manuel. I learnt a big lesson. The idea was to improve his mechanical function so he could lift more and jump higher and all the things necessary to a Crossfit athlete. Rather than just treat his aches and pains. What I learnt was more important in managing my non-athletic chronic pain patients and how pain is just a message we need to listen to.
I thought he was in good health and he was training hard. I started to address old injuries sustained through is physical job and an old accident with a tractor running over his leg breaking it. He had back ache when he trained, and Kevin thought it normal.
After a few visits, he felt stronger than ever and was training harder and harder because his back pain wasn’t holding him back. I was concerned about his overall health and questioned his training methods. Because I saw him in the clinic every week, I could maintain the function of his back, and he kept on training. The months rolled on, and he was breaking all his PB’s in the gym. We were all happy.
Then he fell apart. His body broke down; he was over trained and fatigued. Getting off the sofa was a problem. He couldn’t see why it had happened but I could.
The back pain was the warning sign. Acting like the handbrake, limiting his output. I removed it and then his body couldn’t cope and just replaced one symptom with another in this case back pain with fatigue. Both symptoms were working to slow him down. The fatigue symptoms were improved with the help of a good nutritionist, but it wasn’t until he was made aware that he needed rest and a change of training methods to resolve the problem rather than address only the symptoms.
Surprisingly elite athletes and chronic pain sufferers are identical. Both are daily at the limit of their health. The only difference is the athlete is subjecting the body to greater stresses by exercising whereas the chronic pain sufferer is trying to perform what is seen to be an average level of activity and life stress.
Chasing symptoms from neck ache to back pain to skin issues to plantar fascitis. They are all symptoms getting us to slow down and rest.
Do we listen? No.
We see them as unrelated pains which are getting in the way of normal life or our training plans.
If your back pain is persistent and either needs continuous treatment from your Osteopath or doesn’t respond to any intervention, then I recommend you stop looking at the back pain as a problem and start to see it as a beautiful alarm system which is screaming at you to take action, rest and regain health.
How do we do this?
The biggest step is realising you are in this pattern. Just like my Crossfitter. That was Kevin’s turning point. Not the treatment. Then we can start to heal. Adding in changes to diet, sleep, exercise all help. As do blood tests and stool samples to identify potential problems, but the big one is to see the pain as a help rather than a “pain”.
All of this takes time, and I was taught for every year of pain it takes a month of treatment. It also takes some significant soul searching to find the causes of a breakdown in health.
To find more information download the free guide to find out what you can do for yourself to help your back pain.