What is benign, intractable back pain? Medically it is not life threatening, not surgically treatable, and does not respond to forms of therapy. It is very frustrating to doctors because they feel they have an obligation to assess, diagnose and treat their patients. Non-medically it is an affliction which affects families, jobs, self-esteem and quality of life.
A more colourful description, however, comes from a back patient:
It is as though a fiendish torturer has plunged a pair of sharp pliers through the flesh at the top of the buttocks, located the sciatic nerve deep in the hip, grabbed hold of it and twisted it, pulling it taut. The pain is excruciating; you can’t stand and you can’t walk, or sometimes make even the slightest movement, because of a white-hot lava of pain that runs in a fiery seam down from your lower back and hip, into your thigh, down your leg, right to the tip of your big toe. At the height of its intensity, you wish to vomit, burst your bowels, faint or die – and sometimes all four at once.
This account sounds awful and I hope I never experience it, and certainly not to that degree. It is the most useless, meaningless, tiresome and debilitating form of pain known to mankind. It appears to serve no real purpose, except to continue torturing those poor souls who experience it.
Traditionally, pain is recognised as a warning sign that something is wrong in the body. Benign, intractable pain defies that comparison. It seems merely to create pain for pain’s sake – like vandalism – and usually signals nothing other than the troublesome fact that more pain of an identical nature will immediately follow. In its most perverse form, it can be likened to a car horn that suddenly goes off in the middle of the night for no good reason and then continues to blare away, keeping the whole neighbourhood awake – until someone disconnects the battery.
That is not such a bad analogy, especially when related to some forms of back pain and the treatment I prescribe for it.
Pain is nebulous, very personal and subjective. There are some medical experts who say quite seriously that pain, as we know it, does not exist; that it is purely an individual interpretation of some sort of stimulus that varies enormously from person to person. I do not accept that and neither do most medical schools.
There is an amusing, apocryphal story about two doctors fiercely arguing about pain. The first doctor argued strongly that there was no such thing as pain, the second argued there was. The second doctor suddenly punched the first one and sent him to the ground, screaming and clutching at his bloodied nose, ‘What’s that .....?’ cried the first doctor in agony. ‘That’s pain’ replied the other.
Certainly pain cannot be measured medically. The only people who can measure it are the pain sufferers themselves. Click here to find out more about back pain relief.