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Specific or Non-specific- that is the question.

So you have been to your chiropractor or GP or some other health professional with a pain that has been bothering you- and you were hoping for an answer.

"What is causing my pain doc? Whats going on in there?"

You are examined and sat down and told why you may have it and how you can get better BUT you leave not really knowing what is causing your pain.

In the post- you will learn:

  • About the diagnosis of non-specific pain and what this means.

  • Why finding a specific "injury" is difficult for most pains.

  • How we can create something tangible and specific out of a "non-specific" diagnosis.

Let's dive in....

Why the uncertainty doc?

Pain is a strange phenomenon- I dived into it in detail in another blog post (read more...). Pain can often be experienced without any obvious injury. For example- people often experience lower back pain even-though we cannot find any real reason for it.

For the vast majority of people that get lower back pain- we would not be able to find a specific "thing" that is causing it. We could X-ray, MRI or take blood tests and everything would appear "normal".

Does this mean we don't know what we are talking about?

Doe this mean we have missed something?

Absolutely not!

When you understand the nature of pain and why you get it (read more...) then you can begin to understand that you can experience hurt without harm- aka- pain without significant injury.

Let us look at some specific examples

The 90/10 rule

The vast majority of people I see in clinic have lower back pain. I know as a clinician that around 10% of these people will have a specific "thing" that I can say with certainty is causing their pain.

These include:

Disc injuries




Inflammatory arthritis

Taking a thorough case history and examination will help me to rule these "things" in or out.

Once we have ruled these out, I can be certain that there is no tangible "thing" that is causing their pain (this is a good thing) and they are in the overwhelming majority of people (90%) that would be defined as having "non-specific" lower back pain.

No man's land??

Once there is certainly that there is no "thing" that is causing your pain, it can be left with a feeling of "well, where does that leave me?".

I get it.

I understand the human need for tangible answers. It makes things easier to understand. "It's A.. so I do B."

That is why I recommend 2 things.

1. You understand the nature of pain. (read more...)

2. You move away from the "what" to the "why and how".

Let me explain...

The mindset shift

The what mindset is when you are stuck in the worry, concern and frustration of knowing the "thing" that is causing your pain.

The problem is- you have "non-specific" pain.

Here is the remedy.

You turn that energy into understanding why you have pain and how you can get better.

The why mindset is pretty self explanatory. Even-though your pain cannot be explained by a tangible "thing"- there are still very specific reasons why you have it! Following me so far?

Most non- specific pains have very specific reason why you have it. For example-



Exercise habits

etc etc

Your clinician should be helping you to understand why you have your pain and it would benefit you if you reflected on these things as it will help to remedy your current pain and prevent further episodes.

This brings me onto my next point.

The how mindset is again- self explanatory. You may not be able to say "this exact thing is causing my pain" but you can say "this is exactly how I can get better".

As explained previously, non-specific pains mostly have a specific reason/s why you have it. How you get better will require you to look at these specific things and work on them. for example-

Getting better sleep

Improving my relationships to reduce stress

Taking more breaks at work.

You get my point.


So hopefully you have learned that not having a tangible "thing" to explain your pain is normal and very common.

It is not your clinician missing something (although this does happen obviously!). It is simply the nature of most pains.

Despite this- there are specific reasons why you have pain and specific reasons how you can get better.

Becoming self-reflective and proactive with your clinician will help you to get better, faster. :)

Thanks for reading.

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