Treating Soldiers with Back Pain

Caption: Soldiers with equipment in Vietnam War 1966 (from the National Archives and Records Administration, ARC ID 530611)

Mind-Body Medicine Techniques Enhance Medical Treatment of Pain

It is amazing how some of the techniques of mind-body medicine can be used for treating any disorder. What most people do not understand is why and how it might work in their case. Some techniques like Muscle Response/Reflex Testing, Mindfulness, or Visualization (Guided Imagery) seem like voodoo to the patient, simply because so little is written for them to understand. A news report on back pain in soldiers due to the heavy gear packs they must carry brings to mind how these techniques can help them. This post addresses how the mind is involved in every aspect of physiology, something that tends to be misunderstood in the treatment of most physical disorders. This has other implications for treating soldiers, many of whom suffer from PTSD, which may also be associated with back pain (National Center for PTSD).

All adult humans (and even some children) suffer from back pain once in a while, especially after some form of physical exertion. Most doctors think of it as a symptom from purely physical causes, e.g. muscle strain, or an infection localized in the back muscles. Sometimes it is a sign of something more serious, like arthritis, bone cancer or other disease. Few would ever see how the mind plays a role. Some might see back pain as idiopathic (no clear cause). The use of the term doesn’t mean the doctor thinks the patient is an idiot. The term comes from a Greek word, “idios,” meaning “one’s own.”

How the Brain  Recognizes Pain

What most people fail to grasp is how the brain takes a signal from tired, bruised or otherwise damaged tissue and translates that into pain. There are many circuits in the brain that are involved in this translation, and any one of these could be damaged or compromised, and cause the conscious brain to conclude that pain is coming from a particular location.

The phenomenon is somewhat analogous to what might happen to an electrician who is trying to find the cause of why a light switch doesn’t work, but only intermittently and only seasonally. Upon further investigation, he/she discovers that the problem only occurs when a high power appliance is turned on. The electrician discovers that the wiring was correct but that there is a tiny leak of current between two wires with low quality insulation that cross each other, one from the light switch, the other from the air conditioner.

There is always a “mind” component to any physical problem. Worse, the mind is sometimes the sole source of the “physical” problem, just because of the peculiar anatomy of the brain with all of its circuits involved in the translation effort. Most patients think when a doctor says that something is “all in the mind” that he/she is dismissing the pain as a minor problem, out of the realm of his/her practice. However, full recovery is not possible unless the treatment is holistic. Some patients may achieve this on their own, never realizing that they found all non-physical causes to their pain just by their own thinking patterns over the course of time as the pain subsides.

Who is Doing the Healing?

Prescription Drugs, by J. Troha, National Cancer Institute, at Wikimedia (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Prescription_drugs.jpg)Many patients think that the drug healed them. That is rarely the case. Most drugs operate on reducing the symptoms long enough to allow the body to heal itself without the patient having to experience every aspect of that healing process. The pain-killing drug often works only on the mind, not by “stopping the pain” but by increasing the signals from “satiety centers.” When the pain ends, the patient becomes aware of this fact because one brain center says so.  The circuitry to this “decision-making” center has a bunch of satiety centers to tell it that its source of the pain is now gone. The pain reduces and subsides as an increasing number of satiety centers signal “problem solved.” Complicating the process is the fact that, as long as healing takes place, the pain may recur if the drug becomes fully metabolized by the body. So when the drug is stopped, the pain may recur. While the drug is being used to block the pain from consciousness, the body heals itself.

With all the focus on the drug and the particular location of the pain by both patient and doctor, something else is being left out of the picture which might make healing go faster or be more complete. Mind-body medicine techniques may help the brain to not just remove the pain, but to enhance the healing process by mobilizing other centers needed to coordinate and deliver resources from all over the body to the area of concern. The pain-killing drug can’t do this.

News Report on Back Pain in Soldiers

A report on NPR’s Sunday Weekend Edition, 10 April 2011, “Weight Of War: Soldiers’ Heavy Gear Packs On Pain“, brought to mind how the use of mind-body medicine techniques like Muscle Response/Reflex Testing, Visualization (Guided Imagery) and Mindfulness can help patients monitor and heal their own pain, as an addition to the help that physicians can offer.

Summary

NPR interviewed doctors who treated soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan who found out that they carried between 60-100 lbs of gear with them when they went on maneuvers, contributing to chronic pain that often involved degenerative arthritis, often causing bone spurs to develop.  Over the years of war, the number of acute injuries that have progressed to chronic pain have increased.  Now the Army has started to send physical therapists out with infantry brigades.  They are also trying to reduce dependence upon pharmaceuticals to relieve pain and are turning to yoga, acupuncture, and meditation (all aspects of mind-body medicine).

How Mind-Body Medicine Techniques Can Help: A Personal View

My Single-Hand Self-Testing Method for Muscle Reflex/Response TestingMedical practitioners need to incorporate into their practice the use of Muscle Response/Reflex Testing (MRT, Applied Kinesiology).  I am presently working on a theory about how it works (MRT 1.0-a: How it Works).  The mechanism for how it works is critical for understanding how to use it and what its limitations are. I have found that it takes a lot of training of the nervous system of the practitioner, but it will readily tell the physician fairly soon (especially if the patient has had treatment by other mind/body medical practitioners–e.g. acupuncture, chiropractor [D.C.], naturopathic doctor [N.D.], some osteopathic doctors [D.O.] who do manipulation) previous to treatment by an M.D. or D.O.  Even though it does not cure, it can at least help the practitioner narrow down the cause of the pain, whether it is “phantom” and thus triggered by upper sensory pain nerves, or real, coming from specific places in the spine (muscle, bone or tendon–peripheral nervous system, and lower sensory neurons), and whether there are emotional associations.

PTSD, Mind and Body

Severe PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) is associated with some pain in the back (National Center for PTSD), not just because the person has injured the back during the stress, but because the brain “remembers” earlier incidents when the person injured it under stressful circumstances or just felt pain there for other reasons. This is an important aspect of any symptom to remember–it is not just “ALL in the brain” but it is “ALSO in the brain.”  A concept people call “body memory” accounts for this, often, idiopathic pain.  See the following three sites for discussions related to treating back pain:

I have posted a discussion of the model that I used to formulate a method for using MRT (Muscle Reflex Testing, MRT 1.0: Using MRT).  I must caution the viewer that there is much more to training to use it than in that post (thus the “1.0”). Anyone wanting to train in using it as part of treatment can formulate his/her own model.  In fact, people can develop new techniques based upon the results of MRT, as I often did to repair the brain and replace bad circuits that had developed with good circuits.

I successfully used MRT, visualization techniques, and mindfulness techniques to treat my own PTSD and, along with careful control of diet and activity pattern to remove toxins (Using MRT: Removing Toxins and Emotional Trauma and Toxins).  I was able to greatly reduce the frequency of panic attacks from one (often very strong) attack every 12 sec (24 hr/day, seven days a week) to one to three very weak attacks per week.  I used MRT to learn how to recognize all the symptoms of a panic attack and to remove emotional connections to both conscious and unconscious memories of terror that would cause me to freeze, feel helpless and block speech.

PTSD patients are difficult to treat, precisely because they cannot talk about their terror.  This is why I strongly urge practitioners to learn how to use mind-body medicine to treat these patients. Muscle Response/Reflex Testing can help the practitioner track down all the associated brain pathways. When combined with visualization (guided imagery) of those locations and mindfulness of the symptoms to the point of being to predict their seriousness, the soldier can reduce or even eliminate the back pain on his/her own, without medical intervention, even while carrying the heavy gear pack.

Figures

Soldiers with gear packs in Vietnam War 1966 (from the National Archives and Records Administration, ARC ID 530611)

Prescription Drugs, by J. Troha, National Cancer Institute, at Wikimedia.

My Single-Hand Self-Testing Method

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One thought on “Treating Soldiers with Back Pain

  1. There are so many veterans I deal with who could use this information. I am not sure that the therapy they get at the VA takes into account much of what you say.

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