San Francisco ‘Cured’ My Back Pain


This morning, I went to Bernie’s Coffee on 24th St. in San Francisco, and the seemingly joyful barista, Heidi, remembered me. “Large coffee?”

Actually, it’s medium coffee, but nice try. I rarely get this “local feel” in coffee shops in San Diego or Los Angeles. Maybe it’s because the chain coffee shops I’ve been going to don’t have much of this culture?

Standing outside of the sidewalk in the midst of 24th St. on a cloudy day, the aroma of fresh-brewed coffee is quite strong, strong enough to stir the coffee hunger inside me. Most people here are bundled up like San Diegans would in December.

Today is my last day in the wonderful city of San Francisco, having been here for four days. It was my first time back in 16.5 years. The interesting thing is that I will remember this trip more clearly than my previous two trips.

What’s even more memorable is the lack of low back pain in the past four days.

Other than the fact that I haven’t done any massage in the last seven days, I don’t think I’m doing anything much different. This experience makes me about the biopsychosocial model of pain where social, cognitive, and environmental factors play a role — more or less — in our perception of pain.

Being in a new city, feeling the chilly breeze against my face in AUGUST in Golden Gate Park, and being in good company and conversation with my friends just make me feel good and comfortable. I forget temporarily about my worries and problems that lurk in my memories.

I found an interesting paper published in Pain that reviews environmental factors that affects pain. While it talks about how chronic pain affects the brain and the effects of exercise can reduce pain among those suffering from fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis, and other similar types of pain, this passage resonates with me the most since it relates to the environment and lifestyle.

“Despite these far-reaching effects of pain, chronic pain sufferers may take hope in the possible ameliorative effects of environmental and lifestyle factors. Indeed, research on stress, meditation, yoga, and social and physical enrichment suggests that a variety of activities can sometimes counter the effects of pain on the brain and reduce the severity of affective and cognitive symptoms.”

Maybe I should do these getaways more often. Not just to San Francisco — almost anywhere in the world. Perhaps an occasion novel stimuli, like a cold, misty morning in August that would rarely happen in southern California, could help me cope better with my own pain.

I am somewhat reluctant to leave the cafe and the cold, gray day of San Francisco, but I know the drive back to Long Beach would be beautiful on the 101 and the PCH. It’s too good to miss.

Thank you, San Francisco. You may have “cured” me, even if it’s only temporary.



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