Chronic Pain: Part 1

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Why have I had pain for so long!?

Written by Mitchell Robinson

What is pain? 

Noxious (unpleasant) stimuli can activate sensors (called nociceptors) in your body that send a ‘warning’ or ‘potential danger’ signal up to the brain. These signals travel up through through nerves in the spinal cord and alert the brain to POTENTIAL tissue damage. The brain then decides what to do with that information and how important it is based on multiple factors.

Imagine the brain is the captain of a ship and the lookout is a nociceptor. If the lookout yells “there’s a light coming towards us; port side!”, the Captain must decide what to do.  This decision will be based on past experience, where the ship is, what has happened previously and insight from other officers.

The brain works in a similar way. Expectations, anxiety, beliefs, past experiences, sleep, emotional stressors, arousal and attitude will all influence your pain experience. This is why you can have vastly different pain responses from the same stimulus (i.e. same nociception). The brain won’t automatically produce pain just like the captain won’t automatically sound the alarm.

"Learning about why things hurt, helps things hurt less."

What is chronic pain? 

Pain is said to be chronic if it persists beyond the normal healing time, usually around three months - and here’s where things get interesting. Chronic pain can occur when the captain, as well as the whole crew, stay on high alert. The ship may well have long passed the dangerous waters, but the crew remain hyper-vigilant and overly sensitive. Initially, the pain may be helpful, but now with persistent pain it doesn’t serve its purpose. It continues well past tissue healing - like a smoke alarm that’s still going off long after the fire fighters have doused the house and gone home. Chronic pain means you have an overactive smoke alarm/hyper-vigilant crew - it’s much less about damage and more about the need for protection.

Why does any of this matter?

Learning about why things hurt can actually help things to hurt less! As we’ve seen, the problem is that we often overdo our protective response. The goal is to convince you, your body and your brain that you don’t need that overly-protective response anymore. The smoke alarm can stop going off as the fire has been put out. The crew can stop freaking out as the port side light is not a threat. And the good news is that there’s nothing about you that needs fixing before you start moving. The moving is the fixing!

Are you ready to break free of your pain?

We're serious about helping you live life without pain. Right now, you can book in for a FREE initial assessment. No hidden funnies, weird pyramid schemes, or quackery. Just a great chance for you to see how physiotherapy can help you move again. In fact, we're so serious, we even offer half-price treatment should you chose to pursue your tailored therapy, right in the very same session. Press the button below to quickly make an online booking. It's no fuss and super-simple, we promise.

If you’re struggling with chronic pain and think you would benefit from seeing a physiotherapist for your pain management, talk to your GP. Sycamore Health has a speciality in pain management and non-medicated remedies, and would love to help you take control of your pain!

Would you like to continue learning about pain? Click here!

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