According to this study, 28 million people in the UK are living with chronic pain. That is almost half of their entire population. Think about that for a moment. 28 million people living with chronic pain. In a wealthy, first world, industrialised nation.
Those quite frankly crazy numbers prompted me to have a quick google for some statistics for the US, Ireland, Europe and globally.
USA: “In 2016, an estimated 20.4% of U.S. adults had chronic pain and 8.0% of U.S. adults had high-impact chronic pain.” (source)
Ireland: “Chronic pain is thought to affect 1.65 million people in Ireland, with chronic back pain one of the more common diagnoses.” (source)
Europe: 20% of all Europeans experience chronic pain “…200 million musculoskeletal disorders and 100 million people experiencing other forms of chronic pain.” (source)
Globally: “Estimates suggest that 20% of adults suffer from pain globally and 10% are newly diagnosed with chronic pain each year.” (source)
High percentages of people suffering with chronic pain places a massive strain on healthcare services and costs the economy billions.
“The two health conditions most clearly associated with disability benefits are musculoskeletal disorders (particularly non-specific lower back pain and general chronic pain syndromes) and mental health problems. In the UK, these complaints comprise more than 50% of sick certification. Musculoskeletal complaints, predominantly mild to moderate in severity, and often with no clear or consistent underlying pathology, account for around 20% of benefit recipients in the UK, and therefore account for a significant proportion of incapacity for work20. Given that the annual economic costs associated with sickness absence and worklessness amount to over £100 billion21, the impact of pain and associated conditions remains a significant contributory factor.” (source)
How did we get to this point? With all our technology, medical advancements, nutritional supplements, oils, ointments and tinctures we still have not addressed something as common as chronic musculoskeletal pain. We put men on the Moon, and rovers on Mars, but back pain? Sorry, no idea.
And what is it about modern industrialised societies that leads to such high numbers of chronic pain sufferers? What has changed?
I believe one major factor is that our modern environment is now unrecognisable to how it was even 15 years ago. Technological advancements, and the rise of smartphones and internet connected gadgets has led to a sharp increase in how connected we are, and in turn, how many potential stressors we are exposed to.
People are constantly connected, or ‘on’. Work email alerts, FB alerts, IG alerts, LinkedIn alerts, SMS alerts, Whatsapp alerts, alerts, alerts, alerts, ALERTS! Kids, spouses, family, jobs, friends. All of these things are vying for our attention. This creates an almost imperceptible background milieu of chronic low level stress. Except it’s not imperceptible at all.
Humans respond automatically and subconsciously, to all of the above. Our landau response (Green Light Reflex) is triggered. On a wholly subconscious level we mobilise ourselves, preparing to attend to all these demands, by contracting our back muscles. This contraction of the back is the beginning of the act of moving forward, out into the world. Moving forward to deal with alerts, life etc. This is why “musculoskeletal pain in the low back and upper extremities has also been linked to stress, especially job stress.”(Source) Go, go, go! More, more, more!
Then there’s social media, a digital addiction which can bring its own heady mix of validation-seeking, fear-mongering and anxiety to people’s lives. This can trigger our startle reflex (Red Light Reflex) further increasing our stress levels. Nothing inherently wrong with social media by the way, but it is defintely prudent to limit your exposure.
Our environment has changed far faster than we have. Whenever there is an environmental change, the inhabitants of that environment (that’s us) must also change. It just so happens that the modern environment we have created for ourselves is incredibly fast paced, over stimulating and highly stressful for many of its inhabitants.
It is predicted, and expected, that our technological environment will continue to change even faster in the future. The meteoric advancement of technology will continue unabated. So how can we keep up? In order to survive in this new technological environment, we must be capable of change. We must become as adaptable as our technology.
We must learn how to adapt, and to continue adapting as we go forward. We need to learn skills and techniques which will enable us to cope with our new highly stimulating and potentially stressful environment.
A good start would be to learn how to better monitor, and regulate our responses to stressful stimuli. This will involve becoming more aware of ourselves, our automatic and involuntary responses and how we interact with our new environment. Ironically the ancient aphorism “know thyself” will become ever more relevant and important as we speed into the future.
A regular Somatic Movement practice can help us in this regard. It can provide the means to monitor, regulate and release the involuntary muscular tension that is triggered in response to the myriad stressors in our environment. The same involuntary muscle tension that can cause much of the chronic musculoskeletal pain experienced by so many.
The solutions to living in a highly stimulating and fast paced modern technological environment will not come in the form of a pill, a powder, a gadget or an app. It will come from cultivating your own self awareness and developing more control over your self and your responses to the ever growing number of stressors in this brave new world.
If any of this resonates with you, and you are interested in acquiring practical stress management, muscle pain relief and relaxation techniques, consider learning Somatics. There are more avenues for learning than ever before. If you’d like to learn with me, you can get in touch with me here.
As always, thanks for reading.