Imagine the royal family has asked you to look after the crown jewels worth a million dollars for a week. Where would you keep them? (Here you are looking for the answer ‘in a safe’). Exactly! Just like us – our most precious bit is our brain and we keep it enclosed in the toughest bone we have (tapping our knuckles on our forehead to emphasise the point). Our spinal cord is extremely precious too because it takes all the messages to and from our body and does a lot of brain work as well. We keep our spinal cord encased within strong, solid bits of bone.
Okay – let’s say you wanted to protect it even better, what might you install? (Here you are looking for the answer ‘an alarm system’). Exactly! And that is exactly what we have – all the tissues near the spinal cord are loaded with alarm bells – little danger detectors that will ring if anything goes even a little bit wrong. They are so close together that we often don’t have any way of working out which alarm went off – we just know something did (add lots of little alarm bells to your drawing).
People often believe that their back is weak, fragile and vulnerable. A primary metaphor in society may well be that BACKS ARE FRAGILE leading to secondary metaphors such as ‘my back is stuffed’, or ‘bad backs are forever’. This pearl reminds people that our backs are ‘built for strength’ – they protect the spinal cord so well, allowing a little bit of movement at each segment to offer a reasonable amount over the whole length without causing any problems for the spinal cord. This nugget is also helpful to chip away at the negative perception that can be bought about by scary things like MRI scans. People often forget that it is impossible to identify the exact tissue that set off the alarm because the system is so complex. Finally, this pearl reinforces the critical notion that pain is protective.
Adapted from Explain Pain Supercharged (2017), Lorimer Moseley & David Butler