Sometimes injuries happen quickly. They are the result of an accident or a fall, and the pain is obvious and immediate. But many back problems are more subtle.
I like to explain it to my patients with the analogy of rolling a ball down a hill.
If a ball is sitting at the top of a hill, all you need to do is give it a small push and gravity does the rest. At first it doesn’t look like much. If the hill isn’t too steep you may not see much movement. It may get held up by some tall grass or get stuck in a small hole. But just one or two tiny pushes and it starts again, gathering speed and before you know it, that ball is out of your control and flying down the hill.
Most back injuries start off the same way. Slowly, hardly moving at all but gathering momentum until they are out of control and the pain is severe.
It is only when the pain gets out of control that most patients even notice that there is a problem. Then they come to The Back Care Center with injuries that have been developing for a long time. We can almost always help with their pain, but depending on the how long the condition has existed and how “far down the hill” they have gone, sometimes we can’t push that ball all the way to the top of the hill again. For some people the best we can do is to stop the rolling and keep them from going further down the hill.
But there’s more to it than that. Once we have helped with the pain, the ball is still sitting on a hill, but we’ve stopped it from rolling further down the hill by putting our foot on the ball. If we take our foot off, the ball slowly begins to roll down the hill again and before you know it, the pain is back and getting worse faster than ever.
That is why we continue to see and adjust patients even after they have gotten out of pain, and why we give them exercises to increase their strength. Because if we just ignore they problem, then we’re letting that ball start rolling down that hill again, and it’s only a matter of time before the problem is worse than ever.