Sticks and Stones

Sticks and Stones

STICKS AND STONES MAY BREAK MY BONES BUT NAMES CAN ALSO HURT ME! (MRI Scan)

The reason I came up with this name change of this well-known rhyme is because of what I call the miscarriage of pain information.

Yes, sticks and stones can break your bones but the fact that words cannot hurt you is a little misleading. For example, a patient, let’s call her Doris, goes to a health professional with a pain in her back and said health professional tells Doris that she has a “bulging disc” in her back. Hearing those words alone, that person instantly thinks their back is somewhat broken.

Doris suddenly starts to stiffen up her back in a protective mechanism to restrict movement. Now every time she bends over she looks for something to hold on to for support. If someone calls her she turns her torso and neck at the same time in fear and the list goes on.

So skip forward a couple of months, Doris is sent for an MRI scan and the MRI scan report comes back with the usual mild to moderate disc bulge with a degenerative disc. All of this reinforces that Doris’s back is broken. Painkillers become the norm as part of an everyday routine.

She stops exercising as she doesn’t want to make things worse. Mood worsens, she becomes irritated and depression kicks in. Now imagine living in this world. 1 in 5 people suffer from chronic pain and you might think that this is an elaborate story but unfortunately Doris’s story is happening every day.

And all it takes to start this process is a little bit of misguided information and reversing it is a whole lot harder. Skip back a few months. If better information was given this could have stopped this whole process from happening.

Information like:

  • Back pain is common, it’s very treatable.
    • There is no evidence that a bulging disc causes back pain.
    • There is no evidence that degenerative bone causes back pain.

In fact, all the latest MRI scan studies on people that are not suffering from any back pain show that if you are 30 years old you have a 52% chance of having disc degeneration. If you are 40 years old you have a 50% chance of having a bulging disc (Brinjijki ET 2014 am j neuroradiology).

But these people don’t suffer from pain how can this be??? Because (to quote professor Lorimer Mosley) “pain does not reflect tissue health”. Disc degeneration, bulging discs etc… are all part of the aging process and the fact that Doris had back pain and a bulging disc was just a mere but unfortunately a very common coincidence.

It’s not just health professionals that need to watch their Ps & Qs. How many times has your nosy neighbour told you or somebody you know that your knee pain has tendinitis or that your painful hip is arthritis when they themselves have no evidence or qualification to say such a thing? The nosy neighbour will continue about his/her day but you will take that information on board.

All of these comments play a part in the psychological side of pain. So the next time you try to give somebody “advice” without knowing the facts, just think about the lasting effects your words CAN have.

back pain

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