Understanding Back Pain

We have all heard the quote, “pain is weakness leaving the body.” This statement is not true. Pain is a reflex sensation designed to increase your odds of survival. When it comes to back pain, many times the survival reflex goes wrong. Our society’s search for the “quick fix” ends up costing more time, money, and loss of function because we are usually only treating the symptoms and not the cause of the pain.

Because of these things, constant questions flow through the minds of many individuals with back pain: Will the pain ever get better? How long will the pain last? Will I be able to get back to the activities I loved to do before my back pain started? The end result of all these questions is fear, doubt, and frustration.

 There are two underlying problems to the way the pain is currently treated:

  1. The true “cause” of the back pain is never addressed, and/or;
  2. Who determines how and when you are treated. Basically, there is a fundamental problem with the way our “system” works.

To understand this more clearly, we have to know the answer to the million dollar question: What causes back pain?


To understand back pain, you must first understand that it is actually more of a medical syndrome rather than an actual diagnosis. Back pain is a descriptive term for a variety of conditions. The problem is that many health care professionals try to treat “back pain” as if it is one condition with the same cause rather than a symptom which may arise from multiple different causes.

Dr. Dennis C. Turk is a professor of anesthesiology and pain research at the University of Washington and a past President of the American Pain Society. He states the exact cause of back pain is not found in about 85 percent of patients. He goes on to say that, “sophisticated magnetic resonance imaging seldom sheds light. Indeed, in many studies the scans have picked up spinal abnormalities in many people who have never reported back pain.”

Despite this, many people with back pain undergo diagnostic testing designed to identify a structural cause regardless of the fact that these tests cannot show the source of pain.


The problem with just managing the symptoms of back pain is that you are not addressing the factors that caused the back pain in the first place. It’s like you are putting a band-aid on a huge cut. It may help with the bleeding, and it may even help to cover up the wound a little, but you are not doing anything to take care of the wound itself.


Treating back pain through one approach is usually ineffective. Treating back pain effectively requires addressing every area of your life. In next week’s blog, I will discuss the different types of treatment approaches and why it is important to look at the big picture, rather than one solution to your back pain.



Steve Alaniz, PT


Momentum Physical Therapy & Sports Rehab


(210) 888-1278

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