By: Erin E. Ducat DC, CSCS, CCSP
Most general practice doctors, chiropractors and patients view pain very simplistically. It’s a signal of tissue damage and inflammation and occurs in the short-term until the area heals. If you have pain past 2-3 months, either you must keep hurting yourself or the discomfort is “all in your head.”
New research is now showing us that the process of feeling pain is very different in an acute situation (such as slipping on the ice) versus patients with chronic neck or back pain that constantly or intermittently bothers them for months or years.
When you have acute pain, the discomfort you feel is the result of inflammation chemicals being released by injured structures such as muscle, joints, disc etc. Your nervous system picks up on those chemicals and your brain recognizes it as pain and gets you to slow down while you heal. The good news is that most tissues heal within 4-6 weeks, which means this pain is short lived.
The brain and nervous system has lots of check points that help control different stimuli, movements and pain perceptions. For some of us, when we experience an injury, the checkpoints that work as a dimmer switch on pain stimuli gets turned up. As a result, non-painful stimuli feels like tightness, discomfort or pain. It also changes the way we move and we keep compensating for pain that no longer exists in the form of true injured tissues. This causes postural changes, feelings of “tightness” all of the time and for some, chronic pain. There’s a wide variety of intensities: some people just feel tight, others feel sore and tired and others have to use narcotic medications to control their pain.
Treating chronic pain is a whole another animal compared to acute pain. First, research shows it’s important to explain to the patient what is happening so that they can understand the process and feel more in control. Remember, these people have been feeling yucky for a while.
Next, we have to “reset” the nervous system so that we can turn up that pain dimmer switch. There’s various ways to do this from chiropractic adjustments, acupuncture, massage therapy, special stretches and even certain types of medication. This is the part of the process that your doctor can help you accomplish.
Once we get the discomfort to a more manageable level, we’ve got to brainwash those movement compensation patterns so that you can regain your mobility and you don’t fall back into the chronic pain trap again. This is done through a variety of specialized exercises, stretches and lifestyle changes which require active participation by the patient (which is the hard part!).
If you have chronic discomfort or have been diagnosed with fibromyalgia, there is real help available, usually without medication. Reach out to a chiropractic physician knowledgeable in treating chronic pain today for relief.
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