Tuesday, 23 March 2021

Taking Control and Understanding Chronic Pain

Chronic pain is persistent pain, the type that may build slowly or linger and never really go away.  Whereas, a recent soft tissue injury, perhaps from an accident or playing sport etc., causes acute pain and is generally better in 12 weeks.

Chronic pain is always a totally individual experience and is generally complex however it is now widely understood that the pain we actually feel is sometimes driven by our own individual psychology, so our own brain/mind, rather than the presence of physical pain. 

Importantly, with this understanding we can ALL make a significant impact to and manage our pain!

Long-term pain causes sustained stress on our body and mind and so our normal self-protecting immune system becomes stressed and their is an inflammatory response and so it is not able to function properly.  This can cause a continuous cycle of persistent and sometimes increased pain that may spread.  It may spread as our body is one continuous 3D tensile structure and overtime the “thickness spreads like a pull in a sweater or stocking”. Our flexibility and spontaneity of movement are lost, setting up the body for more trauma, pain and limitation of movement.

Plus, sometimes our nerves are actually physically damaged or impinged and will heal but nerves can change and become and remain over-sensitised even when the soft tissues are healed. This is called neuroplasticity.

Educate as “Pain is a teacher”

When we are injured or in pain we all want to know what is wrong, how long it will last and what can be done to help and so if we have some possible answers and help we will then feel better.  Recently, from my ongoing learning, I liked the description of pain as a “teacher and a lesson” because pain informs us something is wrong and pain can become over sensitised and this is where the teacher becomes annoyed but also the teacher can educate and explain to help ourselves!

How the body feels pain? 

The nerves don’t create our pain but they do transmit pain. 

We feel pain because of nociceptors, which are our sensory nerve cells and are located throughout the body.  They are more prolific in some areas than others which is why when we stub our toe it really hurts but if we reserve into a table or arm chair it doesn’t hurt the back of our legs as much.  

The nociceptors detect noxious stimuli and this can be from something  specific and physical like a cut, pressure, arthritis and also this noxious stimuli can be from a chemical reaction i.e. hormone imbalance, drugs or thermal i.e. change in temperature.

The alerted nociceptors pass warning signals along the nerves, to the spinal cord and to the brain which will determine how the body reacts.  This all happens very quickly. However IMPORTANTLY the brain’s reaction CAN ALSO be influenced by our previous experiences, beliefs, memories, environment (the sights and smells around us).  So all these things influence the brain’s reaction and we feel the pain accordingly, the brain determines the intensity and frequency.  And this is how we can take control of pain!

How we take control of pain?

Read on as this is exciting! The part of the brain that receives the noxious stimuli signals and then decides on the body’s response, also IMPORTANTLY plays a critical part in our motivated behaviour and behavioural responses. So, THIS IS HOW WE CAN POSITIVELY INFLUENCE the brain’s reaction. This happens by the stimulation of a series of positive chemical responses that together “block” the extent of the noxious stimulation of the brain’s reaction and hence the pain we feel. This is called the “gate theory of pain modulation pain”. 

Hands-on soft tissue therapy is a positive and effective method to close the “pain gate”.

Taking Control of Pain

Now we know how our own positive motivated behaviour can help us take more control of our pain we can start a path to recovery.

Beneficial role of manual Soft Tissue Therapy

Soft tissue therapy, hands-on touch, plus calm and positive language by the therapist can have a positive effect on the nervous system and can “close the pain gate” and so positively influence the brain’s reaction to pain.

The same positive effective is also achieved by our own actions - exercise including walking and self-care rehab exercises - releases positive chemicals, meditation, positive belief and education, doing something we enjoy, nutrition and hydration.

If you wish to learn more you may enjoy a book “Pain is Weird” by Mosely and Butler who explain more about the origins and meanings of pain, about the way the body copes and adapts, enabling people to make informed choices about treatments and take responsibility for their recovery.

Please let me know if you have any questions or I can support you, your pain and treat your Soft TissuesEmail Nicky 

I offer free online video (or phone) Consultations so we can discuss your pain, objectives and how I can help.

Author - Nicky Holbrook, Sports Massage and Remedial Soft Tissue Therapist plus Myofascial Release, Lindfield, www.nickysportsmassage.co.uk

March 2021