Feelings…about back pain

Feelings…Nothing more than, feelings


This weeks article speaks to the importance of choosing your provider. Writings may be few and far between, as I am getting married the afternoon of this writing. Because we will be taking our honeymoon soon, there will be a pause in publishing more articles. FEAR NOT! I will return.  Thanks for reading


  1. non-specific “LBP (low back pain) where it is not possible to diagnose a specific cause”


This accounts for about 90% of back pain issues as stated in previous research. When a doctor tells you “you have a herniated disc”, “you have arthritis”, “you have spondylolisthesis” (sorry, I wanted to sound smart), they are simply telling you what another doctor saw on an image. What does this mean? It means that you have lived a life on this Earth and are no different than a majority of the population…okay the spondylolisthesis is not that common. Aside from telling you that you are normal compared to most people, they are telling you that your picture on an image (x-ray, MRI, CT scan) is not the ideal that is in the textbooks. The picture alone can not tell you with certainty that this is what is causing your pain. In other words, your pain is not specifically coming from anywhere, but it may be coming from any structure that senses pain and refers pain to that area.


Think of a heart attack. I picture George Costanza (Cant standja) from Seinfield. His imagined heart attack was complete with left arm pain and chest tightness. This is what we mean by referred. The heart, when upset, can send pain signals to other portions of the body…even though there is nothing wrong with the left arm or jaw or any other location that the heart tells the brain.


  1. “…experts have questioned whether the current paradigm is flawed”


We are right about what structure is causing your pain in about 10% of the cases..do you think that there is a flaw in the system somewhere? The first flaw is that the structure causing the pain actually matters. I know…I know, you want to know why you feel a knife slicing your spine in half or ants crawling on your skin, but in the end, if we turn off the pain…Does it matter?

I think the primary flaw is trying turn non-specific low back pain into something specific. There is plenty of research that demonstrates this: once you have an “answer” to the cause of your pain, you are quite willing to start blaming all of your problems on your disc or stenosis or arthritis or spondylolisthesis. “Sorry honey, can’t do the dishes…my disc bulge is acting up.” Actually…I may need to use this later. I RECANT ALL I JUST SAID. Joking of course…don’t take anything I write seriously.


  1. “Guidelines for the rehabilitation of patients with persistent NSLBP (that non-specific low back pain thingy from above) highlight the importance of practitioners encouraging patients to remain at work and stay as active as possible, with a key focus on self-managing their condition”


I of course will tell you that back pain will not kill you. It could in a very small percentage of the population be something so serious that it will kill you, but in reality it’s probably not you. (again, I am not a medical doctor, but a doctor of physical therapy, so if you think your back pain will kill you…go see your medical doctor). I can understand that some people just want a break from work. If this gives you good reason to take a break from work…Shhh…I won’t tell. Aside from the mental health days that you may want to take, don’t let back pain keep you from working. You are highly unlikely to make it any worse, or better for that manner, by working. Back pains due to disc herniations (bulges) are not the result of one massive injury, but the result of multiple small injuries over time. It’s like the old saying, “the straw that broke the camel’s back” (HAHAHA…it literally fits).


  1. “It is not known why physical therapists do not follow guideline advice”


This is my complete opinion here, but the patient’s don’t know any better. If the patient’s can’t tell the difference between good therapy and bad therapy, and if we then let the cat out of the bag and say that bad therapy pays more than good therapy, why don’t YOU think that the guidelines aren’t followed? There are some therapists that know the guidelines like the back of there hands, such as myself. You can see a previous blog in which I summarize the guidelines for low back pain, but there are other therapists altogether that don’t know that these guidelines don’t exist. I make this statement in a general sense and I extrapolate it from previous research that states that older therapists don’t have either the time or expertise to find a research article. If they can’t find it, then like the tree in the forest…it didn’t happen.

On an aside, I have to keep touching on the bad therapy pays more than good therapy situation. Our profession has historically been paid for what we do to you. Meaning if we give you an ultrasound…cha ching$$$. If we give you e-stim…cha ching$$$. If we give you a rub down…cha ching$$$. If we have you do exercise (whether we are watching you [the ethical thing] or a high school graduate aide is watching you [the pay is the same]…cha ching$$$. If we do all of the above and add traction…$$$. You get the point. We are finally starting to move to a system that if you have a knee replacement, then we will get paid a specific amount, regardless of what we do to you in that process. You will slowly start seeing all of the above disappearing over time because the effect is questionable and we would then be getting paid less per treatment approach that we use. ITS ALL ABOUT THE BENJAMINS BABY!


  1. “Practitioners’ attitudes and beliefs about LBP have been shown to influence their advice and treatment recommendations”


What this tells me is that we are treating based on tradition instead of the current evidence. Again, if you go to multiple doctors, you will get multiple opinions. The same thing holds true for PT’s. If you see a myofascial specialist…then you have a myofascial problem. If you see a manipulator…then you have a facet (back joint problem). If you see a MDT specialist…then you have a disc problem. We as practitioners have to know more than one system, but we better be good using at least one of the systems; otherwise we will just start mixing and matching systems.


  1. “Results have shown that practitioners’ professional group and practice setting appear to be associated with their attitudes, beliefs, and advice”



If the practice setting values money over results, then the people working in that setting will have to reflect the values of their employers. It’s rough out there in this profession because it is hard to figure out which employer you are walking into until it is too late. There is such a huge pressure financially to make a living and pay off the hundreds of thousands in student loan debt, that the new graduate doesn’t know the difference between an awesome environment and one of financial manipulation.


  1. “ I would probably explain to her that it was most likely postural strain…there could be an underlying facet joint degenerative problem evident”


How confident are you in this practitioner’s opinion of your problem. It could be this or it could be that? I don’t really have a good reason for either, but “Hey, it’s usually this or that…so why not now?”


  1. “They believed that patients who exercises and kept active were more likely to avoid future episodes of NSLBP”


For future reference, please read Audrey Long’s article about the right exercise.

What if I told you that your therapist could be making you worse? If we don’t keep up with the research…it is possible. Not all exercise is good exercise. More on this in another blog.


  1. “Empowerment through education and pain control were clear subthemes…”


People…IT’S YOUR BODY! TAKE CONTROL. We can hold your hand, coach you, be compassionate towards you, but WE CAN NOT FIX YOU! You have to play a role. We can give you the tools to fix yourself, but if you don’t use the tools then WE failed TOGETHER. I didn’t fail, you didn’t fail…BUT WE FAILED!


  1. “’passive attitudes’…Therapists found working with these patients demanding, as from their perspective, patients with these attitudes were difficult to communicate with and, therefore difficult to educate and empower”


Please see # 9.


Excerpts taken from:

Jeffrey JE. Foster NE. A Qualitative Investigation of Physical Therapists’ Experiences and Feelings of Managing Patients with Nonspecific Low Back Pain. Phys her. 2012;92:266-278.


As an aside, I just saw that Nadine Foster is one of the authors. I absolutely adore this lady. I had to opportunity to hear her talk at the MDT conference in Austin. I really adore smart people, and she was impressive.


Categories non-professionals, Physical therapy, PTs, Written BlogsTags

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