Stop Picking the Scab

When treating painful conditions, an essential, and often ignored factor is removing the irritants causing the problem. The unhealthy world we live in provides an endless supply of irritants and causes of imbalances and pain that we are not always aware of. Some of these include sitting, workstations, cars, mattresses, computers and smart devices, shoes, sports, exercise, hobbies, foods, certain people – the list goes on and on.

Many of us, especially as children, have been told, “Don’t pick the scab,” after cutting or scraping our skin. The reason being that as the skin heals, we do not want to disrupt the process by picking at the scab. If we were to consistently pick at it, the wound would continue to open and would not heal. This is what happens in painful conditions where either the causative factor is not determined, or it is determined but patient does not make the necessary changes to remove it.

“Picking the scab” is a term used by Stuart McGill, Ph.D, one of the top lumbar spine researchers in the world. One of McGill’s main points in treating lower back pain is determining the causative factors and making changes in the patient’s lifestyle that will protect the spine and prevent further irritation. This is what is meant by not picking the scab.

This sounds like a very simple approach when compared to extensive treatments, drugs, surgeries, etc, but is often much easier said than done. When looking at all the possible causative factors for our pain, it may seem impossible to avoid them all. The first step is awareness – identifying the factors. Once identified, one can then make decisions on altering lifestyle. If the causes cannot be removed completely, it is important to try to create as much balance as possible in order to counteract the negative aspects as much as possible.

A common mistake in dealing with pain is making generalizations such as, “I just have to stretch more”, “I just have to exercise more”, “I have to do Pilates”, “I have to get adjusted more”, etc. While sometimes there is some truth to these generalizations, we must realize that every individual is unique and has different needs. What is true for one is not necessarily true for another. And it is often not about getting more, it is about getting what is right for the individual – quality instead of quantity.

Here are some examples of questions to ask your healthcare providers:

What types of exercise would be most appropriate?
What type of stretching would be most appropriate and when?
What movements or positions should I avoid?
How can I alter my workstation?
How can my diet affect my condition?
What else can I be doing on my own to help myself?
What types of treatments would be best for my situation so that I improve function and get the most out of life?

Keep in mind that the healthcare provider is not the healer. The patient is the true healer. It is their body that is changing, doing what it was naturally designed to do. The provider has an important role in helping to guide the patient on his or her journey, advising and providing services/products that allow the patient to heal more efficiently. Patients must take responsibility for their health, and healthcare providers must empower them to do so. By understanding the underlying causes of our conditions, we can take action to create a healthier lifestyle allowing our bodies to heal and thrive.

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