Getting Advice and Emotional Support for Chronic Lower Back Pain

Updated March 2016

Lower back pain has both a physical and an emotional component.

The physical side is the most obvious and well understood but can sometimes be overwhelming for some.   Most of us who suffer from lower back pain can generally manage our physical pain.  However, some can find it very overwhelming emotionally depending on the severity.

There is an emotional side that is not well communicated but should be.  What we don’t realize, is that the emotional side can be just as debilitating.  In fact, long after the pain has subsided, the toll that it has taken on our feelings are still there.

When we think about back pain, we tend to think of its effects as more of a problem causing discomfort or an ‘inconvenient’ experience that needs care. This generally applies to acute lower back pain.  When acute pain is an infrequent or mild concern, its emotional effects are generally short lasting.  The joy and comfort that comes with immediate pain relief from quick fixes involve some degree of denial.  The emotional costs are minimal but if not taken seriously, this subtle level of denial will result in the potential for more injury.

The Chronic Experience

Chronic lower back pain is a much different experience.  It has a more serious and lasting emotional effect. When someone feels that they must accept something that they do not themselves wish on others, they know that they are dealing with a pain that is affecting them on a minute by minute basis.

Accepting something this difficult without ever knowing whether it will get better is profoundly hard. It can be emotionally devastating to the person afflicted. When someone with acute pain describes their pain, they may use the terms ‘annoying’ or ‘irritating’. They generally do not invest any significant time to treat their pain.  Rest or pain medication is occasionally required and their pain is not a significant focus in their life.  They are still able to focus on what they can do in life.  They are merely ‘inconvenienced’ by their condition.  Searching for help or treatment is not a priority.

Chronic lower back pain affects your life well beyond its physical aspects.  It goes to the very core of your needs and wishes.  If you have severe pain, you know what this is like.  You can feel very isolated.  It is as if no one can help.  A person with this type of pain can easily relate to terms such as ‘struggling’, ‘debilitating’, ‘coping’, ‘suffering’ and ‘managing’.  These are very scary terms to use but in severe cases of pain, it is very real.  These people tend to focus on what they can’t or can no longer do.  They are restricted from life.

Loss

There is another word that has not been mentioned but is likely the most difficult to accept. That is LOSS.   This may seem like a harmless word to one without lower back pain but if is a very upsetting one to someone who is affected.

This loss represents an attitude of how you have resolved your experience of chronic pain.  It has become something that will never go away and that you must accept for the rest of your life.  This is despite everything which you have done.  This includes few successful and many unsuccessful experiences of pain relief.  A very long history of failed attempts to relieve this pain has become a consistent part of the emotional costs.

Loss can feel as if a part of you has died.  Literally.  Your discs, spine and lower back are not functioning the same way as they used to.  Everything that depends on them is also affected.  Your family, career,, personal interests and even your ability to recover.

It’s not just a simple matter of accepting that you can no longer lift heavy objects anymore.  We have gone well beyond that concern.  Losing your back function restricts you from participating if almost every facet of life.

When a healthy person hears their friend Fred say, ‘Sorry Joe, but I can’t help you move this weekend.  I have a bad back.’, the healthy person not think twice about the consequences of back pain. They are more apt to give advice. Thinking that they themselves are knowledgeable and experienced enough to help.

For people like Fred, moving for their friend is the very least of their worries. They themselves have a very long list of concerns about how they will able to manage their own day let alone part of someone else’s.

If you would like to know about the emotional consequences of lower back pain, please go to Part 2.  It discusses the dangers of reliance on medication as it is no longer effective.  It written in the perspective of someone who has been in that position.  It is to help those who do not understand how debilitating it truly is.  Those who suffer can easily relate and appreciate such a perspective.

The Emotional Costs of Lower Back Pain, Part 2: When Pain Management Becomes Chronic