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Forget painkillers, chronic back pain can be treated just as well with positive thinking

It’s Britain’s most common reason for taking sick days and 80% of us will experience it as some point in our lives. Back pain is a big problem in Britain, and it contributes to the growing rate of people suffering from depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts.

Experts are now claiming that pain can be managed simply by thinking positively- but how can something so debilitating, constant and consuming be ‘all in the mind’?

Last year, Warwick University revealed that people suffering from back-pain who underwent a course of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) showed twice as much improvement as those who received physical treatment such as physiotherapy, acupuncture or osteopathy.

Negative thinking is thought to have a negative impact on physical health.

If we can learn to control and overcome our negative thoughts, we can control and overcome our physical symptoms.

Surrey’s Spring Rehabilitation leads the way for CBT for back pain in Britain. It offers one of the first residential back-treatment prgrammes, combining group-based exercise with CBT to get patients back to their daily routines.

The centre claims a success rate of 90% after 6 weeks of treatment. Paul Mills, a resident Physiotherapist, said: for those whose pain goes on for several months, recovery becomes difficult because that’s when negative thoughts creep in. They put up mental barriers to physical activity for fear that they won’t be able to do it in the first place or that it will make the pain worse. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy where you imagine your pain to be worse and more inhibiting than it is.’

CBT is used to encourage a ‘can do’ attitude, shake people from their cycle of negative thoughts and help them to devise goals and plans to increase physical activity and increase the speed of recovery.

Nicola Turner, an independent clinical psychologist who specialises in CBT, blames the habit in medical training to separate the mind from the body, when in fact the two are intrinsically connected.

The longer pain lasts, the easier it is to slip into the train of thought that ‘this is never going to heal’ and this in turn encourages the body to give up. Without sufficient exercise, back pain cannot improve. Giving up and staying in bed could be detrimental to the recovery process.

Mills, the resident physiotherapist, outlines 7 different principals for people suffering from pain to try at home:

1. Change- try to act differently to your ‘old self’. Walk and talk differently and you will begin to see yourself depart from the old, negative, immobile you.

2. Pace yourself- don’t try to do too much but try to get the balance right between pacing yourself and challenging yourself.

3. Visualise- Imagine yourself as a fit, mobile person and believe wholeheartedly that you will achieve your vision.

4. Posture- sit and stand upright, hold in your tummy and pull your shoulders back. It will make you appear more confident and improve your back.

5. Play- even though sitting in a bar or restaurant having to make conversation can feel like the last thing you want to do when in severe pain, it is more effective at distracting you than sitting alone at home.

6. Breathe- breathing is highly underestimated as a healing technique. You can use deep breathing to block pain.

7. Challenge- while pacing yourself and taking care not to damage yourself further, make sure that every day you are pushing yourself a little further. This ensures that you are always improving.

To find out more about how CBT could help your back pain, please visit our Counselling and Psychotherapy factsheet. 

View the original Mail Online article.

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Zoe Thomas

Written by Zoe Thomas

Written by Zoe Thomas

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