In 2010, researchers published a study whose goal was to investigate the possible connection between disability in chronic low back pain and health literacy, or the ability to seek out, obtain and understand health information. The study found that health literacy had less of an impact than other factors.
The mind-body connection has long been established when it comes to chronic pain; negative beliefs about your situation can lead to worsening pain and disability. This is largely due to the fact that fear of activity combined with little hope for recovery amount to passivity. The worst thing you can do for your back is lead a sedentary life. Acute, severe back pain warrants a brief period of rest, but chronic pain mandates activity. It can be difficult and scary to move through pain, but it is essential to recovery. Inactivity causes the body to grow weak and stiff. It can also lead to situational depression, which can then lead to increased sensation of pain since physical and emotional pain share the same pathways in the brain.
The study divided adults with chronic back pain into high disability and low disability groups and assessed health literacy, fear avoidance behaviors, passivity, outlook concerning recovery and beliefs about causes of back pain. Health literacy turned out to be comparable between the two groups, but results for the secondary measures were significantly different. High disability participants had greater fear avoidance beliefs, less optimism concerning the outlook of back pain treatment and greater passivity in terms of coping with back pain.
Perhaps most interesting about this study is the discrepancy in beliefs concerning what caused back pain between the high and low disability groups. There was some overlap; both groups named acute injuries and dysfunctional body mechanics as causes. Overall, the main distinction between the two groups’ responses was that people in the low disability group were more inclined to mention habitual causes like sitting too long at work, whereas the high disability group members were more likely to mention anatomical factors like age and weight.
This may seem like an insignificant difference, but it could help explain differences is coping methods between the groups. If you believe that your behavior is a back pain cause, you can change your behavior and potentially recovery from pain. If you believe that your body or age is a back pain cause, then it will be harder (or impossible) to change the cause. By placing the blame on anatomical factors, individuals may be setting themselves up for a passive and counterproductive approach to treatment.
Accurate information and proportional beliefs are imperative to recovering from back pain. Cognitive behavioral therapy is designed to help people identify disproportionate or overly negative thoughts and beliefs and replace them with more accurate ones. It is a highly beneficial form of therapy for people with chronic pain.
The above study highlights psychological factors of chronic pain and disability. Chronic pain does not mean that you are doomed to a life of bed rest. Finding ways to be active and adjusting your beliefs about pain can lead to less disability and greater quality of life. For more on the study, see www.medicalnewstoday.com.