Could your thoughts be causing your back pain?

By Mark Bowden | Advice

Sep 01

Once you’ve read the following you might well see how hypnosis and guided meditation could potentially be brilliant to relieve your back pain.

This article is going to show how there is evidence to suggest that it’s what is going on inside your mind that could be causing the physical pain in your back.

I’ll also be giving you a great technique that you can put into practice today to get your mind and your brain on your side when it comes to back pain.

Before we go any further, a note of warning: Any back pain should be investigated by your doctor to rule out any serious issues. If you experience loss of bowel and bladder function or any numbness you should seek medical advice.

Back Pain is a growing problem and the answers don’t seem any closer

Millions of people around the globe each year experience chronic back pain that cause them to seek advice from their doctors.
In fact on any given day the waiting room at your local doctors surgery will usually have a number of patients waiting to see the doctor to find out why they have such bad back pain.

It’s a major problem that doctors face almost every single day. Back pain where there isn’t much that they can do for the patient. There also isn’t anything that can really be attributed to the back pain. No obvious physical signs, yet the patient is clearly in considerable discomfort.

As a result of the discomfort patients often request stronger and stronger pain killers. It isn’t uncommon for patients to be on high levels of opiates (morphine etc) and still be unable to get relief.

Will a back pain diagnosis help?

In many cases where patients have had back pain they are referred to specialists to investigate the pain.

Often, these investigations will involve MRI scans and this is where the ‘problem’ is first found. A slipped disc, spinal degeneration, disc bulges, herniations or other issues.

I say the ‘problem’, but has the problem really been found or is the diagnosis inadvertently about to make the pain worse and stick around for a lot longer?

The truth is that many people with with the same structural conditions are healthy and experience no pain.

In fact the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) has recommended that doctors should not routinely refer patients with back pain for MRI unless there are clear indicators that surgery might be required.

These guidelines are as a result of a number of studies that show that spinal abnormalities are present in a high proportion of people who do not have pain.

Medical Doctor John Sarno notes that from early childhood disc degeneration begins and most pain free people have some form of disc degeneration in their back.

In fact this is backed up by a number of other studies:

‘On MRI examination of the lumbar spine, many people without back pain have disc bulges or protrusions but not extrusions. Given the high prevalence of these findings and of back pain, the discovery by MRI of bulges or protrusions in people with LBP [lower back pain] may frequently be coincidental’ Jensen (1994).

‘No correlation was found between the symptoms and the degree of disc displacement, nerve root enhancement or nerve compression in 160 patients with unilateral sciatica’ Karppinen (2001).

‘Degenerative disc disease, as seen on imaging, is not a painful condition.’ (Centeno, 2003)

‘Findings on magnetic resonance scans were not predictive of the development or duration of LBP. Individuals with the longest duration of LBP did not have the greatest degree of anatomical abnormality on the original (1989) scans’. Borenstein, (2001)

Research taken from Oldfield, (2015).

Could the diagnosis be what causes your back pain to get worse?

I’m sure you’ve heard of the placebo effect. But have you heard of the nocebo effect?

The nocebo effect is the opposite to the placebo effect. It is the measurable or observable negative effect on health not attributable to treatment, based on the belief that the treatment will be harmful.

In the area of back pain it may come into effect as patients are told that they have certain issues with their backs. Being diagnosed with certain conditions can mean that our brains cause us to act out the problems that we perceive the issues should cause us.

And there’s more…

We also know through studies that the therapeutic alliance is a big factor that impacts on the outcome of a patients treatment. The therapeutic alliance is simply the relationship between the doctor or therapist and the patient. So the communication as well as the actual treatment itself can have a big impact on the outcome.

So when a doctor or a physiotherapist says to the patient things such as

‘Your spine is rubbing together and causing the discomfort’


‘Your back is out of alignment and its causing the pain here’


‘You’re going to be prone to pain and discomfort due to the degenerative disc’

These could also add to the nocebo effect.

Your brain plays a part in your back pain

As science and other studies give us a greater understanding of the body and the brain, we know for certain that the brain plays a large part in ongoing back pain.

Your brain is the most powerful instrument in the known universe and it stands to reason that if you can manage your brain better you’re likely to be able to control and relieve your pain better.

You may have an actual physical problem that needs medication, physiotherapy and other treatment. Or could it be that the factors that we’ve just discussed are the root of all of your problems?

Whether it’s a physical problem caused by and injury or it’s a physical problem caused psychologically the likelihood is that you can make some improvements to your pain right now by utilising your brain in the following technique.

Use this technique to improve your back pain

The following technique is a type of self self hypnosis for back pain. It could also be considered guided meditation for back pain or visualisation for back pain.

Whatever terminology you use to describe this technique it works for the following reasons:

  1. The brain cannot tell the difference between real and imagined. Therefore you are conditioning your brain to change it’s neuropathways.  These neuropathways are conditioning you to move freely, unrestricted and without discomfort.
  2. You are disengaging the parts of your brain that responsible for depression and anxiety. These are conditions that are believed to exasperate back pain.
  3. Your engaging the part of the brain that is responsible for positive and solution focused feelings.
  4. You are producing neurotransmitters in the brain such a s serotonin that make you feel good and are natural pain relievers.

So now you know how and why it works let move on to the back pain relief exercise now.

Think about a time where you were free of back pain. Imagine yourself walking or running freely. Close your eyes and really try to immerse yourself in doing this. You may need to read the instructions through before you close your eyes!

If you can’t think of a time, you can make it up in your mind. Simply imagine yourself now, if you were free from back pain. Imagine how great it feels. Freedom to move with full range of movement. Discomfort being a thing of the past.

Really immerse yourself in this time. It can be difficult at first to visualise this but the more that you do it, the better you will get at doing it. Like learning anything, practice make you better and better.

Try to focus on feeling of relaxation, feeling of comfort and any other positive enjoyable thoughts. And as you allow these feeling of comfort and wellness to increase simply imagine yourself moving freely, without discomfort.

Why this technique for back pain can be incredibly effective

Just because this technique is simple, don’t discount it. It’s very easy to do and also very easy NOT to do! Doctors surgeries are filled with people who want to be free from back pain. They will do anything for the magic pill or the magic supplement that probably doesn’t exist.

You are unlikely to get long term relief from a pill, but it stands to reason that by conditioning the organ than is responsible for creating the pain, you can also recondition the brain to relieve your pain.


Borenstein, D. G. (2001), The value of magnetic resonance imaging of the lumbar spine to predict low-back pain in asymptomatic subjects: a seven-year follow up study, The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, 83: 1306-11.

Centeno, C. J. (2003), Degenerative disc disease and pre-existing spinal pain, Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases, 62: 371-2

Jensen, M.C. (1994), Magnetic resonance imaging of the lumbar spine in people without back pain. New England Journal of Medicine: 69-73

Karppinen, N. (2001), Severity of symptoms and signs in relation to magnetic resonance imaging findings amongst sciatic patients. Spine: 149-54

Oldfield, G. (2014), Chronic Pain Your Key to Recovery, 2QT Publishing.

Mark Bowden
Mark Bowden

Mark Bowden is a Solution Focused Hypnotherapist & Mental Performance Consultant. He is a best selling author and works with Premier League Football players on mental performance.