man in pain

Understanding Pain: Why do we “pick the scab?”

What is Pain?

Stuart McGill, Ph.D. is one of the leading experts in the world on back pain and biomechanics of the spine. His book, “Back Mechanic: The secrets to a healthy spine your doctor isn’t telling you” is written for non-medical providers and is a great read if you’re suffering from back pain.

One of the biggest goals at Carolina Active Health Chiropractic is to get you back to the things you love. As many of you know, we incorporate several techniques and strategies to achieve this. The end goal is to remove the stressors and spare your spine with proper movement and strengthening exercises.

Dr. McGill writes: “Many back pain sufferers would experience a huge breakthrough in their recovery if they only realized that it was their flawed movement patterns that kept them pain-sensitive. Much like a scab forming on our skin, our backs are constantly trying to patch and health themselves. We, however, by continuing to repeat harmful movement patterns in our daily lives cause re-injury. We are essentially “picking the scab.” It is unreasonable to expect the body to heal if we continue to provoke it in the same way that led to the original injury. Continued provocation of pain sensitizes the nerves so that the pain is triggered with even less stimulation. Remove the provocative motions and we can find the solution.

Here’s how pain sensitivity works: people increase their sensitivity through repeated stressful and painful loading. These muscles and joints are loaded with sensors: pain sensors, pressure sensors, force sensors, chemical sensors. Some detect carbon dioxide; some detect pain, some sense histamine for inflammation. Human joints are packed with sensors that relay position and movement information to the brain. These signals travel along the sensory nerves. Along the highway of nerves, there are checkpoints or “gates,” at junctions. According to the Gate Theory of Pain, the idea is, to flood the checkpoint with “good information,” in other words, signals associated with pain-free movement. In this way, there is no more room for the pain signals as they are crowded out.

Try this: close your eyes and find the tip of your nose with your finger like in a roadside sobriety test. You are using kinesthetic sensory organs that run throughout your arm to navigate. These sensors alert the brain as to the position of your forefinger in relation to your nose. The sensation of this simple pain-free motion dominates the information traffic on your sensory nerves with feel-good kinesthetic sensory information that identifies position, length, and force.

Finding and repeating pain-free motions in your back will cause the remaining painful activities to hurt less. Read the previous sentence again – it really is that important.

By discovering and engraining positive movements for your back, you will find that the pain often dissipates and then disappears entirely. This is because when we remove pain triggers and stop “picking the scab” we give our tissues a chance to rest, heal and regenerate. Simultaneously our sensors for pain are actually being desensitized. Master this, and you have mastered your back pain.

For those of you that have a known type of injury, a name to attach to your condition, your personal recovery strategy should always begin with avoiding the aggravating posture for your unique spine is key to getting yourself back on track.

Various symptoms of back pain have a distinct and known cause (although this information is not widely known making this book uniquely valuable). Injuries can be avoided if we avoid the injury mechanism itself. Here’s a recap of some pain avoidance strategies, as well as an introduction of some that will be discussed later. The knowledge in this chapter will provide the foundation that will help you:

  1. Locate and eliminate the cause of your pain- get an appropriate assessment that provides a specific diagnosis ( you will be able to obtain your own by reading chapter 6).

  2. Increase your consciousness around what movements and postures cause you pain.

  3. Develop replacement postures and movement patterns that enable you to function pain-free.

  4. Stabilize your torso, core, and spine to remove painful spine joint micro-movements.

  5. Develop a daily exercise plan that includes walking.

  6. Mobilize your hips

  7. Learn to create power at the ball and socket joints (hips and shoulders).

  8. Learn exercises that are based on patterns of movement: push, pull, lift, carry, lunge, squat, etc.

  9. Make healthy spine choices when sleeping, sitting, or engaging in more demanding activities.

You’re on your way to learning the secrets of a pain-free lifestyle! Let’s make it happen!”

At Carolina Active Health Chiropractic, we incorporate several of Dr. McGill’s principles into our treatment approach at our Greenville, SC office.

Here is a simple hinging drill that is one of the beforementioned spine sparing strategies:

Three Points of Contact Hip Hinge

We are here to help, please reach to our office for further information!

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  1. NJ Whole Health Center August 18, 2021 at 6:11 am - Reply


    Nice blog and thank you for sharing it.

  2. sai.chiro November 2, 2021 at 5:21 am - Reply

    Very important information.Health is always wealth. This will be helpful for many people who are suffering from back pain.

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