Surgery to Cure Back, Hip, or Shoulder Pain? 2 Things to Cut Before Your Body


A lot of times people with back, shoulder, or hip pain are thinking about what they need to cut. Medical articles written by or inspired by surgeons promote the idea that surgery is the best answer to all kinds of chronic pain conditions.

So people are led to believe they need a surgeon to cut some bone, some ligament, some tendon, some muscle...

This comes from the medical/orthopedic model of chronic pain: if something hurts, it's because something is malformed or permanently damaged.

But this orthopedic model ignores the regenerative capacities of the body AND ignores an even bigger issue.

Scientific research consistently shows that "damaged" or "deformed" structures that allegedly cause pain are - wait for it - NOT related to pain. (Read more about chronic pain, science, and productive philosophies here)

When you hear things like "no cartilage = knee pain" or "arthritis = back pain" you're getting fed the orthopedic perspective. Just remember that it's well-intentioned marketing from the surgical community. (A clear example of this for shoulder surgery here)

The upshot is that cutting into your body to remove pieces, shave them down, or reshape them to address chronic pain is NOT backed by science. And over decades, the data consistently shows that using surgery to fix chronic pain is a big, oversold crapshoot.  

The reality is that aches and pains are driven by a combination of factors: muscle weakness, muscle inflexibility, poor awareness/connection to body parts, stress, emotional well-being, relationships, etc. etc. 


So if you shouldn't be cutting bones, ligaments, tendons, and muscles, what should you cut to cure yourself of chronic pain?

I'm going to share two big things you should cut to improve your comfort levels and reduce joint pain and chronic body-wide pain. And I'm going to explain both strategies in detail. These chronic pain relief strategies apply to back pain, hip pain, and shoulder pain. And they apply to just about any other kind of joint pain you may experience.

1) Screen time.

TV, computer, iPad, smartphone are all included. There are multiple aspects of screen time that make your body hurt. First is the static position you're in for hours at a time. Human beings were animals who walked, crouched, squatted, ran, climbed, danced, and wrestled. A variety of movements kept muscles and joints working.

Then came screens.

And humans became animals who sat. And sat. And sat.

image source: hominipost.com

And these animals focused their eyes on objects 6 inches to 6 feet away from their faces. And their muscles atrophied. Their internal sense of their own bodies atrophied. Their bodies stopped moving well.

These animals turned into stooped creatures who had trouble breathing, walking, squatting, running, climbing, dancing, and wrestling.

And their bodies stopped feeling well.

Then they created social media, and not only were these animals physically unwell, they also became mentally and emotionally unwell.

Which brings us to item 2.

2) Noise.

I'm not just talking about auditory noise. I'm talking about social media, newspapers, podcasts, gossip mags, etc. I'm talking about all the avenues that fill your brain with titillating tidbits, fearful figures, and angering anecdotes.

Drowning yourself with "content" to stay abreast of the latest events creates a constant level of stress that keeps your entire body tense. It makes it difficult for you to feel your body accurately. It makes it hard to train your body well.

News headlines, viral videos, and podcasts are designed to suck you in. They're designed to keep your attention. They're designed to make you feel like if you consume a little more, you'll be a little better prepared for the BAD STUFF TO COME.

The reality is that sitting on your butt, feeling scared, agitated, anxious, attacked, and alone turns your body into a chemical stew of weakness and pain. [Read more about anxiety and chronic pain here.]

image source: Pixabay

Think about your body when you are tense, scared, fearful, anxious. What muscles contract? What stiffens? What muscles react?

If you're like 99% of all humans in history, your upper shoulder and neck muscles, abs, chest muscles, inner thighs, hip flexors, calves, palms, wrists, and bottoms of your feet tense up.

You're ready for fight or flight.

Many people live in this state for more than half the day. Between family, work, and a constant stream of titillating bad news, it's easy to be stressed out for most of the waking hours of your day.

If you're in this stressed state for 2 hours a day, it'll have an effect on your well-being.

If you're in this state for 4 hours a day, it'll have more of an effect on your pain levels. And if you're in this state for half the day or more, this will have huge cumulative effects on your brain and body.

It disturbs your muscles. It disturbs your heart. It disturbs your mind. It disturbs your sleep. It disturbs everything.

And as you start to hurt more and more, you get caught in a cycle of distraction and disturbance on the internet...looking for reasons, answers...Until you land on articles that make you think you have an incurably bad disease or condition.

And the articles keep pointing you to drastic interventions like pills, surgery, injections...

Oh, yes, I've been there. I'm not describing this from imagination. I've done this and catch myself doing it.

Before you fall down that path and start trying to cut your body up to fix things, think about this alternative...

Your body needs time to recover from the constant stress you have it under. Your body cannot heal and thrive unless you cut out the noise. Cut out the noise, and your body CAN heal and thrive.

As someone who has long been "type A" super productive, driven, and always busy, I know that this can sound silly to people who are used to be high performers. And I know fellow hyper-productive people will be inclined to dismiss the advice in this article. But I strongly invite (and implore!) you to give some of this a chance.

The results will take a little bit of time to show up, but they will show up.


Practical steps to cutting out pain inducers

But "I've tried to cut down on screen time" you might be saying right now.

But "I've tried to cut down on noise" you might be saying right now.

And you may have failed miserably at it all. You find yourself looking at your screen, reading the news, getting agitated at 11PM...

(Again, I'm not writing from imagination).

So let me give you two practical steps you can take to cut out screen time and cut out the noise.


Step 1: Use technology to reduce your screen time (Fight Technology with Technology!)

Your iPhone has something called Screen Time to help you manage your device usage. It's a very weak tool. It's too easy to get around its limitations, and its little warnings will do almost nothing to curb real internet and phone addiction.

To limit your screen time, check out tools like the Freedom app for iOS. For Android devices, I personally like AppBlock.

On your Windows or MacOS computer, ColdTurkey Blocker is an incredible app for setting strict usage limits of specific apps, websites, and even of your computer itself.

As of writing, I use an Android phone and AppBlock to limit my usage of the internet.

On my phone, I have AppBlock lock me out of my text messages after 8PM until 7:30AM. I also set a daily limit of 10 minutes of web browser usage.

I also have NO social media apps installed on my phone, and I don't have the email app within easy sight or reach. I don't even allow my work email to update unless I manually ask for it.

On my computer, I have ColdTurkey Blocker setup to limit my usage of specific websites AND of the computer at certain times of day.


Step 2: Implement limits that give your brain and body time to rest.

Now that you have the apps you need to limit you app usage, here's what I've found helpful and workable for me in my life. 

On my computer, I set a ColdTurkey block to lock me out from 9PM until 5AM. That means I cannot use my computer to check email, read the news, listen to music, watch videos, etc.

Using the computer before bed to do research, send emails, etc. creates agitating dreams. And the hunched position I'm in on the computer seems to lock up my neck, shoulder, and arm muscles through the night.

I wake up sore and groggy. It's like a computer hangover (complete with feelings of regret).

I've found that this enforced period of computer-free/phone-free time has a huge impact. Having at least an hour without technology before bed means I sleep deeper, have calmer dreams, and I wake up feeling refreshed.


Adjust your phone and screen limits to fit your needs

You, of course, may need to adjust things to practically fit your life and your job, but be wary of justifications you come up with to be loose with your restrictions. 

If you find yourself saying, "oh, but WHAT IF I need to check for an important email at 11PM?!" your email addiction is manipulating you OR your life is way too busy.  

I've personally found it's best to be TOO restrictive for a while to see the nature of my own addictions.

The period of extra restrictiveness can help break the grip of the screen on your mind and body. If you find that the level of restrictiveness becomes truly problematic for the flow of your life, you can always loosen up your restrictions (after carefully weighing the cost to your mental and physical health).

Here's some more detailed reasoning on the technology blocks I set for myself. 

Why I block text messages on my phone in the evening

I find texting a frustrating means of communication.

A normal human conversation involves two people exchanging ideas in real time. One says something. The other responds.

With text messages, the long periods of waiting - wondering whether a message has been seen and wondering how it's being received - creates a lot of stress in my brain. I will often assume the worst of silence.

Even when all rational thought points in a benign direction, I will assume someone hates me, is ignoring me, or that the delay in reply will result in some kind of massively negative physical or relationship catastrophe.

I could spend months or years trying to correct this mental circuitry. Or I can just implement a daily time block on text messages and have some peace and quiet at night so I can sleep better. Better sleep helps me stay calmer and allows my body time to heal from workouts, grow muscle, and restore whatever needs restoring.

You may also find this article on phone addiction useful.

Why I block web browser usage on my phone

I like to learn. I like to read. The internet gives me unfettered access to more information than I can soak in. Ever. So whenever there's something I want to learn about, I often get sucked deep into information rabbit holes...

And I know I'm not the only one.

I also find that without limits, I will visit specific news and blog sites that feed me lots of interesting information that makes me feel smart...but that ultimately keep me feeling fearful and stressed out.

News, finance, and environmentally focused sites/blogs/podcasts are titillating and satisfying in some way, but they do not bestow a sense of peace and calm.

More fear and stress means my body (and yours) feels tense and cruddy.

I have met people who claim never to be caught in internet rabbit holes. If that's you, this block may not be necessary (but you are probably a unicorn). If you even suspect you have a problem with internet rabbit holes, you should experiment with blocking internet access. 


Running experiments to reduce phone/internet addiction and to eliminate chronic pain

I used to have a major addiction/compulsion problem with email. I used to check it incessantly all day. I'd check it when I woke up. I'd check it before bed.

One morning I realized that every time I opened my email, I did so with a feeling of dread. And I realized I didn't want to reignite that feeling first thing in the morning - or even multiple times per day.

So I took a drastic step. I blocked access to email on my phone. I didn't have any email accounts saved on my phone. If I wanted to check email, I had to do it at a computer. This meant I wasn't getting irritated and stressed by emails all day. And it meant that when I did read emails, I could actually respond to them with a full keyboard (instead of getting annoyed with the smartphone keyboard).

After doing that for a little while, I found I had managed to break my email addiction. When I allowed it back on my phone I was able use it for receipts, confirmations, order pickups, etc. without feeling the need to check email constantly throughout the day. These days, I never check email on my phone unless there's a specific one I'm waiting on.

I ran the same experiment with social media apps and websites on my computer. I gave myself forced blocks away from social media. Those periods did reduce my desire to be on social media.

However, as soon as I allowed social media apps back on my phone, my behavior became compulsive. My mood and physical health and comfort deteriorated.

So I took social media off my phone and have kept it off.


The bottom line on cutting chronic pain

People often underestimate the importance of stress levels in the development of chronic tension and chronic physical pain.

If you are constantly feeling hyper-alert, vigilant, and tense, your muscles will reflect that. That constant tension will impact your physical comfort and mobility. That may manifest in the shoulders, the back, the hips, or any other area where your muscles can stiffen or atrophy.

If you're on a journey to free yourself from chronic pain and you're thinking about cutting your body, take a moment to look carefully at your life.

High stress levels driven by our daily exposure to convenient technologies can contribute to and aggravate chronic back, shoulder, and hip pain.

Think about cutting other things from your life before you start cutting body parts.

Looking for ways to break your phone addiction? Read this article on breaking phone and internet addiction.

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