Denis’ story – “How changing my beliefs about my back pain made me pain free”

I was a very active person and hardly ever experienced back pain until I was told I  prolapsed a disc some years ago. This marked the start of a long period of chronic pain that could have been avoided had I known more about back pain and pain in general and the power of beliefs.


When you go into a cinema you know how to behave, you queue for tickets, say which film you want to see, pay, give the tickets to the attendants and go in to watch the movie. Well after I hurt my back I started to act the way a person with a bad back does. I followed the script. I stopped lifting heavy weights, bending, and only did light walking. I developed a belief that my back was fragile and I could picture a heavy weight putting pressure on the sore area. Not only did I lose muscle from not doing exercise, I became more aware of anything that might ‘hurt’ my back, even fearful. My lifestyle became more restricted. I used to play racquet ball and many sports and lift my nieces up in the air and give them swings. As it transpired my discs did not look good in scans along most of my spine. Around this time I had been diagnosed with osteoporosis. The lack of exercise was a contributory factor. This only fed my belief that my back was fragile, so I was more protective of it. I could picture my spongy backbones being damaged if I did anything


It turns out that my beliefs were ill-founded. My physiotherapist explained that our backbones and hips are very strong structures and our backs and disks are made for movement. And though I was skeptical, he showed me research that indicated that scans, if anything, add to a person’s pain. He showed me research that indicated that prolapsed discs are common, but interestingly many of these people don’t report pain. He explained that our pain is processed in our brains not in our finger or back, though it seems like it is. My brain came to expect pain from my back and would tune in to any back sensation. It was hyper sensitive for that pain. My fear of pain and hurting my back led me to label any sensation as pain. And my mind/brain had a good explanation for it, “I prolapsed a disc and have osteoporosis’.  This pain was keeping me awake at nights. Sleep deprivation accentuates pain perception I have found. And the increased pain was telling me my back was the source. This created a vicious cycle.


After my physio talked it through with me I lost my fear. I started going back doing the things I used to. I started living my day without restriction, doing household jobs, and started back jogging, playing racquet ball even lifting heavy enough weights (up to 70kg). My back improved, the pain subsided. I can now sit down for a couple of hours at a time, if I choose which I couldn’t before. My bones have improved and I have overcome my osteoporosis. The jogging and weights have helped. I no longer see my spine as fragile and I lift my eight year old niece, Emma, up and give her swings.


It has been a remarkable change in my life. I do a lot of computer work and driving. I used to worry that I wouldn’t be able to drive but this is no longer a worry.  I still notice people saying “oh with your bad back don’t do things”, but I say my back is good, great even. Changing my beliefs was the most important thing for me. I wish I knew this about ten years ago. It feels great to be pain free.

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