I was a young woman abroad, traveling around and teaching English to pay my way. It had begun as a very enjoyable adventure, exploring and interacting with the many different cultures, people and places I came across as I savored the sense of freedom and play that being abroad seemed to bring.

Then one day I got up in the morning to go and deliver my class as usual and felt a nagging and persistent pain in my back. It came across as a deep, tired ache. Bending backward was a real problem for me. It was the ability to bend forward that led the doctor to say I was fine and should go to work. By the look in his eye, it was obvious what my backache meant to him – that I was playing a ‘fast one’ to get out of a day’s teaching!

To me it meant:

  • Suffer silently, ignore the problem and pop the pills as I go to work, so I don’t lose my job.
  • Not being able to deliver my teaching well through lack of concentration and energy.
  • That when I need help no-one listens as often happened in childhood.
  • Feeling unsupported and alone – that no-one cares or understands, or even wants to.
  • Feeling like a victim – ‘why me?’
  • That my efforts to be happy are usually sabotaged by unexpected events and disappointments.
  • Remembering a car accident I was involved in a few years before, during a traumatic kidnap attempt where my back took the brunt of the impact.
  • Being burdened with yet another challenge and having to make the best of it.
  • A drain on my energy turning a natural zest for life into an act of suffering and ‘bearing up’ under the strain.

I think the conclusion of all this is that back pain is not as straightforward and simple a condition as it sounds. We need to look at what MEANING it has for the person who is experiencing it. We need to understand that all these thoughts, memories and accompanying emotions can act as additional stressors to cause, aggravate or intensify the condition or keep it there.

Any treatment of the pain needs to include an investigation into what meanings and feelings are associated with it, past, present and future. A way needs to be provided to work through or let go of these stressors. Otherwise, they can block or get in the way of our body’s natural healing processes and make the problem worse, both emotionally and physically. We could also explore what ‘new meanings’ might be assigned to the experience to enhance and encourage restoration and wellness.

What Else is Possible?

Here are a few other possible ways of understanding the pain

  • Seeing the pain as a ‘wake-up’ call, a message that something needs to be addressed.
  • Being the ‘victim’ is just one way of seeing it. What would be the treasure or the gift in this challenge?
  • I can make a more empowering choice for myself and see the pain as a simple and supportive message or signal from the body that ‘something needs to be done’ and then take informed action.
  • It is an opportunity to take a nurturing attitude towards myself. I can experiment with mindful awareness, meditation, laughter or EFT for example since it is well known that these are all are very good for pain relief and wellness.

Becoming aware of and understanding the effects that ‘meanings and emotions attached to pain’ can have allows me the choice and opportunity to address the underlying factors and come up with a cure instead of just ‘putting up’ with the pain, staying in the same conditioned mindset or popping pills to treat the symptoms, that might otherwise possibly do more harm than good.