11 Sep Normal Regional Pain
The greatest conundrum for me in regards to coming to the understanding that stress (a very broad definition of stress) plays a profoundly more important role in our health than the vast majority of doctors (and thereby patients) acknowledge, is that armed with this knowledge I am still struggling mightily to get over my own problems with stress induced pain. It’s both embarrassing and frustrating. It’s also a reminder that I am on the right path, because my pain, which at this point is situated in my left foot, acts as something of a barometer of my internal state. The tightness is always there, but when I an either consciously or unconsciously stressed, the pain and tightness will keep me up at night. I know that I have not injured myself, but instead that I have what Dr. Nortin Hadler calls, “normal regional pain”. I also know that when I slow down and think about what might be bothering me I am able to calm the pain in my foot.
I have been reading and re-reading Dr. Hadler’s book as I prepare to interview him next week. In “Stabbed in The Back” he details how all of the treatments for regional back pain have no scientific basis, and argues that there is no cure because there is no illness. Back pain is a part of the normal course of life. I believe he is profoundly right in many regards and he presents data to back up his assertion that all of the back pain treatments from surgery to manipulation do not work better than a placebo.
The book has a lot to do how with how we frame and view illness. In his argument, the “medicalization” of a “normal” process, thereby making it “abnormal”, has led to the epidemic of back pain. However, what his argument fails to take into account is that back pain is “normal” because it is normal for us to internalize our stress. This process of making our conscious stress unconscious, leads to interactions with the autonomic nervous system, which manifest as illness. As we all know, when we are feeling very stressed out we often get headaches, or cramped shoulders. Why should it surprise us that this same process might not manifest as back pain. Further, there is copious data that proves that people who are stressed out get sick more often and have wounds that heal much more slowly. We can begin to see that stress interacts with health, but If we can recognize that stress could be on of the causative factors in illness then we have at least the beginnings of ways to mitigate the effects.
When I picked up Dr. Hadler’s book at the library I also grabbed the one next to it on the shelf, “Mindfullness”. The “science” of mindfulness is young, but the practices are ancient. Using meditation to become more present and to calm our over active minds has proven to reduce stress. I have been following the directions of the eight-week program described in the book for the past week and I do feel calmer and more centered. My foot however, is not playing along. It kept me up the last two nights.