Summary: Best Life Magazine A growing cadre of doctors and scientists now believes that chronic b... Page 1 of 6
Health & Fitness
A growing cadre of doctors and scientists now believes that
chronic back pain is a disease of the nervous system, not the spine.
By: Jonah Lehrer; Photographs: Craig Cutler Jan 21, 2008
- 7:43:02 PM
In its darkest moods, the demon lurking in Marc Sopher's back made it almost impossible for the family doctor to carry on with his
daily routine. It would pound his lower back, sending dull throbs of pain up his spine, and then fire sharp bolts of pain down one
leg and then the other. At first, Dr. Sopher tried to ignore the pain. He assumed that he'd strained something in his spine, perhaps
herniated a disk or pinched a nerve. "I'm a traditionally trained physician," he says. "I started taking some anti-inflammatories and I
waited for my back to heal." But the demon wouldn't go away. When holding meetings, he'd have to stand up and stretch his back.
When driving, he'd have to stop and get out of the car to ease the tension in his spine. When reading bedtime stories to his kids,
he'd have to lie on his stomach. There was no anatomical explanation for the extremity of his pain. "I tried to soldier on the best I
could," he says. "I honestly believed I'd be living with pain for the rest of my life."
The majority of people with back pain (estimates run as high as 90 percent) will get better within seven weeks with little or no
medical treatment. The body heals itself, the inflammation subsides, and the nerve relaxes. These people go back to work,
pledging to avoid the sort of physical triggers that caused the pain in the first place. About 10 percent of patients don't get better.
Their pain gets worse and worse: It is chronic. One day, these people find themselves lying supine on the floor, wondering what
they did to deserve such agony.