By Valerie Minard
Back pain is one of the most common reasons Americans visit a doctor– second only to colds or flu. In fact, Americans spend an average of $6,100 per year on medical care to find relief through surgery, doctor’s visits, X-rays, MRI scans, and medications. And those costs continue to rise.
According to Dr. Anders Cohen, M.D., chief of neurosurgery at the Brooklyn Hospital Center, in New York City, even surgery is no longer regarded as a quick fix for back pain. “85 percent of people don’t need — and won’t benefit from — back surgery.”
Unfortunately, throwing money at the problem has not reduced the number of sufferers either. According to the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine in spite of the increased monies, new methodologies, and studies designed to figure out how to reduce pain, there is no indication there has been improvement. “The limited studies available suggest that these increases have not been accompanied by population-level improvements in patient outcomes or disability rates.”
Dr.David Schechter believes that instead of treating back pain as a structural abnormality that needs correction, it may correlate more closely with psychosocial factors and benefit more from an alternative approach.
Unfortunately, up to now, not even mind-body medicine research has focused on back pain. Pruitt and Von Korff, among others, have suggested that the time has come for a “paradigm shift” in modern medicine’s approach to this problem. Based on growing clinical and circumstantial evidence they “believe that the ultimate reason for the persistence of the pain is in the mind/brain or subconscious. This creates or perpetuates the pain in order to distract attention from emotions that are too threatening for the individual to address consciously, such as anger, rage, grief or anxiety.” They refer to this as the ‘distraction pain syndrome’.
These emotions all stem from stress, which the dictionary defines as a “physical, chemical, or emotional factor that causes bodily or mental tension and may be a factor in disease causation.”
But, according to Herbert Benson, MD, who many see as the father of modern mind-body medicine, there is an answer to stress-related physical problems. His research has demonstrated that using a two-step approach, the “relaxation response,” brings peace of mind and improved health. “What we found were a set of profound physiologic changes that were opposite to those of stress. Namely, decreased metabolism, decreased blood pressure, decreased heart rate, decreased rate of breathing, and also slower brain waves.” It also has been effective in relieving anxiety, mild and moderate depression, and excessive anger and hostility.
Benson believes over 50 percent of people regularly use some form of a mind-body technique that evokes the relaxation response, whether it’s prayer, yoga, tai chi, meditation, etc.
While I’m not an expert on the relaxation response, I can affirm that back pain can be healed by prayer. When I hurt my back a few years ago, I found it difficult to walk and sleep. While praying about this one day, I remembered what the Apostle Paul had declared, “For in him we live, and move, and have our being;”(Act 17:28). This quelled my fear and brought comfort. The result was that I found relief in a short time and complete and permanent freedom in a few months.
In speaking about the effect of prayer, health and spirituality author, Mary Baker Eddy writes in her seminal work, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, “Become conscious for a single moment that Life and intelligence are purely spiritual, — neither in nor of matter, — and the body will then utter no complaints.”
This would come as no surprise to Mitchell Krucoff, MD, a cardiovascular specialist at Duke University School of Medicine in Durham, N.C., who has been practicing prayer and spirituality with his patient care. He explains, “[Today,] we’re seeing systematic investigations — clinical research — as well as position statements from professional societies supporting this research,…All of these studies, all the reports, are remarkably consistent in suggesting the potential measurable health benefit associated with prayer or spiritual interventions.”
Prayer changes thought by lessening fear. And when thought changes, the body improves. If you are one of those back pain sufferers who are still searching for a cure, don’t loose hope. The answer may be as close as your next thought.