Originally published in the Elephant Journal.
written by Dr. Meggie Smith.
He told me my body was painfully flawed.
He told me that a body like mine would lead to a life of sickness and pain.
But I didn’t believe him.
He showed me the X-Rays. And pointed to the spots that did not look the way he wanted them to look. He explained how my bones were too jagged, how my discs were too small. These things, he told me, were not how my body was supposed to look. These faults in my body were causing me pain, unhappiness and disease.
But still, I didn’t buy it.
I wasn’t sure that pain naturally arose out of imperfection. I thought it was equally likely that my body just looked different. And that what he saw on the inside of my body was just the expression of myself and my life.
I decided the inside of my body didn’t need to look a certain way for me to be healthy.
I ignored the doctors who told me that until I looked good, I wouldn’t feel good. I focused on nourishing my body with the food it wanted to thrive. I received care from chiropractors who honored the unique expression of my body and trusted its power to heal. I exercised in ways that made me feel alive. I cherished time with family and friends who made me feel loved.
And when I saw research indicating that there is almost no correlation between X-Ray or MRI findings and pain, I paid attention.
Now when patients come into my office, I tell them what many doctors know, but few of us mention—there is little connection between what our body looks like on the inside and how we feel. There is almost no connection between what doctors see on X-Rays and what patients feel in their bodies. There is almost no connection between what doctors see on an MRI and what patients experience in their bodies. Doctors see a torn bursa, a herniated disc or arthritic joints, but they have no idea what the patient feels.
Research studies show that at least half of us feel no pain from the findings of X-Rays and MRIs. And some of us have chronic pain. An image doesn’t always indicate how a person feels. We can see imperfections on film. But we can’t see pain. A person can have perfect joints and be in incredible pain. A person can have severe arthritis and be effortlessly practicing yoga for hours a day.
Medicine isn’t really sure what to do with these asymptomatic findings—these people who look flawed but have no pain. They wonder if the imperfections will cause problems later. They wonder if these imperfections are ever the cause of chronic pain, if they don’t consistently cause pain.
This is what I think it comes down to: The same thing is true of our body that is true of our life. Just because it looks good, doesn’t mean that it feels good. Just because everything is in place, and where it should be, doesn’t mean there is no pain or suffering. Maybe our body looks how doctors think it should look—that doesn’t mean we feel good.
This information gives me great hope. I know that my body can be vibrant and vital even if it gets banged up along the way. But for some of my patients, this information just makes them feel lost and confused.
If their pain isn’t caused by their flaws, then what are they supposed to do?
Pain is a combination of several factors, including neurological and biochemical issues. I tell my patients to get in touch with their bodies as a way to help pain subside.
I became a chiropractor because it was the most powerful tool for my pain. But any talented body worker—massage therapists, energy healers, physical therapists or yoga therapists—can help. Cutting out inflammatory foods, like sugar, alcohol and flour will also help.
Surprisingly, improving our balance will often help with lower body pain. Exercise and motion are incredibly helpful, but you need to make sure you are working with a practitioner who knows your body and your life well enough to help you determine what exercises are right for you.
Most often healing requires a combination of many things, but the most important piece is listening to our body, rather than fighting it.
Your body is breathtakingly wonderful.
A body that looks like yours can lead to a life of joy and great things.
And I hope you believe me.
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Kalichman, L,PT, PhD, Kim, DH, MD, et al. Evaluated Features of Spinal Degeneration: Prevalence, Intercorrelation, and Association with Self-Reported Low Back Pain. The Spine Journal 2010; 10(3):200-208.
Haldeman, S, MD, PhD. Is it time to discard the term “diagnosis” when examining a person with uncomplicated axial neck pain? Spine Journal 2011;1(3)1: 177-9.
Suri P, MD, Hunter DJ, PhD, et al. Inciting Events Associated with Lumbar Disc Herniation. Spine Journal; 2010(10): 388-395.
Author: Meggie Smith
Editor: Rachel Nussbaum
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