Most people think of a placebo cure for back pain as some fake therapy option which does nothing to correct the underlying symptomatic condition. Common knowledge dictates that a placebo works on the basis of psychological suggestion instead of actual anatomical alteration. While both of these statements are true, there are some aspects of a back pain placebo which defy widely held beliefs and accepted medical theory.
It is well known that any treatment can provide a placebo effect, including surgery. Placebos offer a fascinating glimpse into the inner workings of the mindbody relationship and provide yet another piece of evidence demonstrating how the mind can influence the body in ways which confound our present understanding.
This essay details some perfect examples of the placebo effect in the back pain treatment sector.
The back pain industry is comprised of traditional and complementary medical providers who mostly believe almost all back pain is the result of some anatomical spinal abnormality or problematic physical, structural condition. Some doctors blame the bones, some blame the nerves, while others blame the muscles. Every doctor has advice on a variety of treatment options, although most of these have shown abysmal curative results in patients with chronic back pain.
The way that medical science has failed the average patient is by often misdiagnosing pain which is linked to coincidental structural issues that are not the true source of symptoms. This has been the subject of much study and has resulted in changes to current diagnostic protocols. Doctors are no longer advised to diagnose pain based on structural conditions found during imaging testing, unless they can definitively link the symptoms and the irregularity together. Being that there is little, if any evidence that these same structural issues cause chronic pain, this conclusive link is almost never established.
Furthermore, many patients do enjoy relief from a variety of treatments, but the benefits are temporary and often defy logic. This is the placebo reaction in full effect. Time has shown that in some cases, the diagnosis turned out to be wrong, yet therapies produced positive effects short-term, even though they were directed at a mistaken target.
Often, the more powerful the treatment, the better it did in satisfying the placebo role. However, the very nature of placebo cures mean that they are almost always transient.
Our state of health is not a purely physical condition. Science has proven the link between the mind and the body in the creation of disease, as well as miraculous recovery from illness. Science has further proven that conscious emotional issues contribute to states of both good health and sickness. More recently, research has proven the link between repressed subconscious issues and the creation of psychosomatic pain syndromes.
Despite all this proven research, some providers in the back pain industry basically flat out deny that these processes can ever be responsible for inducing physical back ache and related symptoms. This denial comes despite the utter failure of most accepted medical treatment options and the brilliant successes of some psychological therapies to completely cure back pain.
The precise failure of some in the medical community is this stubborn persistence in not acknowledging the obvious link between the symptoms in the physical body and causative conditions in the subconscious mind. This is not some new age science fiction; this is modern age science. It is also the basis for the relatively new medical specialty of psychophysiology.
To add insult to injury, it turns out that many patients who have actually received some relief from these same accepted medical treatments, did so through the power of placbo. That’s right. The medical system has accused psychological treatments of being a placebo cure, while all along many of their own therapies fit this description to the letter.
It has been proven through countless patient histories that many medical and complementary therapies work simply because the patient believes the treatment will help. This fact applies to chiropractic, physical therapy, exercises and surgery.
That’s right… I said even back surgery can be a placebo.
The evidence for this process comes from the many cases of misdiagnosed back pain conditions which respond to inappropriate medical treatment. Logically, the treatments should have no effect, yet they often do produce temporary positive results in many patients.
Unfortunately, due to the placebo nature of these therapies, the results do not last and the pain comes back, moves to another location or morphs into a case of back pain substitute symptoms.
Placebos are to be avoided at all costs. The temporary effect of a placebo will only dash a patient’s hopes once the pain returns. Most chronic pain patients, including myself, experienced a variety of placebo effects during our quest for back pain relief.
For me, the best placebo turned out to be chiropractic. For years, I was convinced that my regular chiropractic adjustments were keeping my bad back in check and preventing it from becoming worse. If I could not get to the chiropractor when I felt it was necessary, my back pain would invariably become worse. This is the power of psychosomatic pain and the benefit of a placebo treatment in action.
Quitting chiropractic cold turkey was one of the most difficult things I ever had to do in my life. I clearly remember the sense of dread I felt as I missed appointment after appointment. As time wore on, my confidence grew that I did not require it to be strong and healthy.
Never underestimate the power of the placebo cure for back pain, or its antithesis, the nocebo. Both of these factors figure into treatment results for many suffering patients.