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According to the American Physical Therapy Association, back pain is the single leading cause of disability, preventing many people from engaging in work as well as everyday activities. While most people with low back pain recover, for some, the pain becomes chronic and debilitating.

If you happen to be living with chronic back pain, Cliff Wonsettler, a physical therapist at Wonsettler Physical Therapy & Specialized Health, in Scenery Hill, said it’s possible to find relief.

“It’s a common problem that many people deal with,” Wonsettler said. “There’s also a lot of questions and uncertainties around the subject. But I’m not going to beat around the bush. When it comes to the question of whether chronic back pain can be cured, the resounding answer is yes! I know this both scientifically and anecdotally.”

To aid in the journey, Wonsettler said it’s important to understand what pain is.

“Pain is an output of the brain that is produced whenever the brain concludes that body tissue is in danger and action is required. There are three types of pain: Nociceptive pain, neuropathic pain and pain from central sensitization,” Wonsettler said. However, central sensitization is most commonly what’s going on when someone is having chronic pain. This can result in pain no longer being protective. Various areas of our brain light up and there is a perception of danger, however pain does not always mean an injury or tissue damage. Often, people with chronic back pain have had tests and imaging done to rule out concerns of something more serious.

“So most people are left wondering then why their back is hurting all the time. Your pain is legitimate and very real, it’s just harder to address and understand the reasons why it’s there,” Wonsettler said.

Chronic pain, Wonsettler said, is what happens when pain has been present for more than three to six months.

“Here is the first and most important word to understand when it comes to chronic pain - neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity is a big word that describes the brain’s ability to modify, adapt or change over time.  It’s one of the most amazing and important things we know about the brain, especially as it pertains to chronic pain,” he said.

To make positive changes in the brain (where all pain is generated), it is important to understand what influences the brain’s perceptions. The short list includes physical health; sleep; stress reactivity; attitudes and beliefs; social support; family relationships and nutrition.  

“In essence, what’s required to overcome chronic back pain is understanding many of the components that will have a positive influence on the brain’s perception of pain.  Then we can begin addressing those items in order of importance and influence.  If you have tight low back muscles that are contributing to pain - and you’ve been religiously stretching two times daily - that’s great!  But if you have other issues, like you’re only sleeping two hours a night, eat nothing but donuts and beer every meal, hate your work and are stressed out beyond belief - and you’re not addressing these things - you will very likely continue to have chronic pain,” Wonsettler said.

A comprehensive approach that helps your brain to see things differently and undergo positive changes will help you conquer your chronic back pain.

“The difficult thing is sticking with something long enough to see a change,” Wonsettler said. “It can take many months. That’s why I encourage people to journal as they go through this journey. It’s hard to appreciate the small changes over many months, but if you can looks back, you can see the gains.”

Wonsettler said the first step in finding relief is having the self-awareness to seek out help.

“You really need to have the awareness to say ‘I need help’ and then you need to find someone who offers guidance and direction,” he said. “There are people who can coach you. Who can help you along in this journey. You need to figure out who that is, and then put trust in them and yourself and start.”

To learn more about Wonsettler Physical Therapy & Specialized Health and how they can help you, call 724-945- 5161 or visit wonsettlerpt.com.

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