What is Chronic Pain?
Practically speaking, chronic pain is pain that has lasted more than 3 months after injury. Realistically speaking, it is far more complicated. Chronic pain represents one of the most taxing problems on the healthcare system. As a result there is now more and more research coming out every day on why in some circumstances, pain persists.
Generally speaking, damage to bones and soft tissue (such as muscles or ligaments) normally heal within 6-8 weeks. Normally there is a clear pattern where if we load the injured area, we get pain. For example, if I sprain my neck in a car accident, it hurts a lot initially every time I try and turn to look behind me, but this gets less and less each day. Over time though, sometimes these patterns start to blur if the pain persists. Now my neck aches even when I’m resting. Now it’s hurting as soon as I get into the car. The massage that used to settle the pain now barely does anything.
Current research has found chronic pain to be very real. Although the original injury has healed, the body has undergone different changes. For example, at the broader level, our body has developed a different posture, or some muscles have become overused and tight, while others weaker. While at the biological level, some of our muscles have grown more nerve endings that increases the sensitivity of the area. This can mean even mild pressure has now become painful. Think of it like a car alarm – why do some car alarms just seem to go off at the drop of a hat? They aren’t broken, they are just more sensitive. Sometimes our brain can get so used to being in pain, it is ready to generate pain signals at any chance it gets!
Fixing chronic pain relies on us acknowledging our original problem is healed. We are now dealing with a new problem. It won’t respond to the same treatments like it did before. “Passive” treatments like massage are unlikely to have any long term effect. We need to retrain our body to undo all the changes that we have developed over months and years. This will often take the form of progressive exercise where we gradually expose our body to more and more. We will gradually change poor habits that are maintaining our pain, such as inappropriate postures. We will gradually condition our body to achieve more without running into a dead end. Exercise is a fantastic tool to challenge pain, as it allows you to take control.
Chronic pain is a very complicated problem. If you have any questions, or think it applies to you. Please give us a call to arrange an appointment.