1 in 5 Aussies live with chronic or persistent pain. It’s complex, difficult, debilitating, costs our nation billions of dollars a year, and there isn’t a straightforward easy way out of it. BUT that’s not the end of the story. You can overcome chronic pain. I will try and unwrap some information around persistent pain in this blog post.
What is Chronic Pain?
Pain is called chronic when it persists beyond the normal healing time. As a general rule this is usually greater than three months. When the body has persistent pain, the brain becomes more efficient at producing pain thanks to those neural pathways being used so constantly.
In the body are nociceptors. These are sensory nerve cells designed to pick up stimuli (thermal, mechanical, or chemical) that are dangerous or have the potential to be threat. When the stimulus is enough to kick the nerve cell into gear it sets off a signal to let the brain know there is a threat. This signal goes from the nociceptors to the spinal cord. It must then be significant enough again to proceed from the spinal cord up to the brain. Once it reaches the brain it gets processed with already stored information so that the brain can decide whether the response should be pain or an alternative – like shaking off a scratchy twig.
What affects pain?
Pain is influenced by many factors, not just biological, things like emotion, social context, beliefs, and more. That’s why it’s so complex! And the crazy thing is that there doesn’t even need to be nociception (stimulated nerve cells) for the brain to concoct the pain message! We now know that pain doesn’t necessarily equal the amount of damage in the tissues of our body. Or vice versa.
According to the experts in pain science and education (L. Mosely & D. Butler): All pain experiences are a normal response to what your brain perceives as a threat.
And over time as pain persists the danger messenger neurons become more excitable, the brain adapts to become better at producing the neurotag for pain – or playing the ‘pain tune’ if you think of the brain and the pain system like an orchestra. Response systems, thoughts and beliefs all become more involved in the complex experience of pain as well. The problem shifts from being mainly about injury and tissue damage to being a problem of the ‘pain system’. Often entangled with chronic pain are things like anxiety, depression, mood swings, sleep disorders, diet issues etc. The progression of acute pain to chronic pain is driven by the balance between risk factors (poor posture, repetitive strain, inactivity, anxiety, stress, lack of sleep, comorbidities, depression…) and factors that are helpful like a good environment, good sleep, support in social circles, paced activity, positive mind-set, feeling safe etc.
What can help?
All of this shows us how important it is to think holistically when thinking of our own pain experience and also as therapists looking after others.
Ensure that you are being kind to yourself, getting good sleep, eating well, having meaningful connection with supportive friends/family, talking positively to yourself and so on, so that the things that calm your nervous system outweigh the things that may be a risk factor to increasing your pain experience.
Take a look at this short video called Tame the Beast which helps explain Persistent Pain a little more.
At Burleigh and Broadbeach Physio centres we offer – Physiotherapy, Remedial Massage, Podiatry, Exercise Physiology and more.
Appointments can be booked online or by calling 5535 5215