If you’ve developed chronic lower back pain or chronic thoracic or cervical pain unfortunately it is possible for it to take a few years to resolve.
How do I know this? I’ve worked with dozens of people with these conditions and I’ve seen how long it can take. One person, in particular, had chronic low back and hip pain, cervical spine pain, and chronic headaches that would get worse with any type of activity that required her to exert herself. This had been going on for 20 years.
We didn’t do anything miraculous. We carefully crafted a movement and strength training program for her that progressed incredibly slowly over the course of 18 months. Yesterday (as of writing this), she sent me a text saying:
“I feel great too! I have also been adding some extra kettlebell lifts on occasion and went up to 20 lbs. I had a very busy weekend getting set up and then having my granddaughter’s birthday party at my House yesterday. I moved those two missed workouts forward. I hope you had a good weekend! “
Most people give up way too soon.
In this article, I’m going to share why I think it takes so long for people to get better, why most people give up too soon, why people say “physical therapy didn’t work for me,” and much more.
How Long Can It Take For Chronic Back Pain To Get Better?
It can take 12-18 months, sometimes, to see true progress in terms of decreased disability and a return to a new normal.
And this is if you are doing these things:
- Consistently practicing a movement routine, ideally strength training, for 12+ months
- Ensuring the strength training routine progresses very slowly and methodically so as to not flare symptoms too much.
Why Do Some People With Back Pain Not Get Better After 6 Weeks Of Physical Therapy?
You’ve probably heard from your doctor that most back pain, in 99% of cases, gets better on its own within six weeks.
While this is true, it lacks context. Many people end up having recurrences of back pain later on in that same year, and a percentage of people (probably you if you’re reading this), develop chronic pain that does not get better on its own.
I think the main reason some people don’t get better is that their body has a different set point for pain and is more sensitive. Just as more people are more sensitive to sound, or light, or smell, others can be more sensitive to pain. (this is my opinion)
The traditional route to address this is to “try” PT (physical therapy) for six weeks, sometimes three months.
Unfortunately, for quite a few people this isn’t sufficient. If you’ve had pain for 5+ years, you can relate.
For you, you likely need a slow, progressive training program that can adjust to your symptoms.
This is possible to build but it takes a lot of back and forth between your therapist. The reason this isn’t the standard of practice is that in the traditional format of physical therapy of two or three times a week, this would be prohibitively expensive for most people.
I’ve figured out a way to make it a lot more affordable and require way less face-to-face with your therapist and it’s worked incredibly well, actually!
I’ll share more of that later.
Why Should I Try Strength Training?
If you do it right, it builds massive confidence. This is my opinion, but, I think that confidence in our bodies is something that is lost with chronic pain. If we’re able to regain it through building our muscle and strength, what a glorious feeling that is.
Like I shared before, I’ve had 7+ people who have worked with me over the course of 12 months or longer, were very consistent with their movement and strength training program, and quite literally saw their pain slowly drift away.
Here’s a short story from one of my clients that I wrote up not too long ago:
“Being a single Mom, having severe lower back pain and sciatica, and not being able to drive her son to school one mile was more than she could bear.
At 39 years old, this is not the ending that she wanted.
And yes, this is a real story from one of my clients, Danielle.
5+ years she couldn’t do this.
We started working together in October of 2020. Here are the things she was struggling with:
- She could only walk 200 steps to her mailbox before severe pain flare-ups of sciatica
- She could only drive 1 mile before her symptoms were unbearable
- She couldn’t bend forward to pick items up off the ground
- She had to make numerous trips to and from her car to bring the groceries in
- She was constantly exhausted due to the pain and the grip it had on her
- She was on the verge of completely giving up
Flash forward to October 2022, 2 years later:
- She can walk 10,000 steps without irritation in pain.
- She can drive her son to school without an increase in pain
- She can bend forward and pick items off the ground, even heavy ones
- She can carry her groceries in one trip
- She has more energy and is more productive with her days
- She now feels invigorated with life and feels like she can plan for the future
When Danielle and I met, she believed in what I was doing and she had the mindset that she would do whatever it took and do it for as long as it took to get her life back.
She said many times that I’m willing to work on this for 5 years if that’s what it takes. I told her that it likely would be much shorter than that, and lo’ and behold, it took around 12 months to really start turning a corner, 18 months to start to accelerate, and 2 years to achieve true lift-off where she is just working out now and not worrying about her lower back.”
Now, this story that I just shared with you is one of many that I have of clients that have had disabling chronic pain and are now back to living their life. Often times they still have some pain or discomfort, but, in other cases they actually have none.
I’m honestly quite intrigued with the mechanisms behind this and what allows people to reclaim their lives through regular movement practice.
I’ve now seen enough people and corresponded with my colleagues to see that this is absolutely possible, but, it takes a long time and a lot of work.
The cool thing about this though, is that even though it takes a long time and can be a lot of work, it can still be fun and exciting. A long time and a lot of work is not a negative thing.
And on the flip side, if you decide to not put in work and hope it goes away that usually becomes a forever problem.
I hope you choose a progressive strength training program and movement program to help with your symptoms as I’ve seen it work so many times now! Good luck!