Discover to recover / explore to restore

 

 

SHEDDING THE SHACKLES OF CHRONIC PAIN

 

Our new understanding of the brain’s role in pain has taught us that targeting pain at the tissue level is not enough.  Through movement and manual therapy the body as a whole, interdependent, functional unit needs to be taken into consideration.  This includes the nervous system, the immune system, the endocrine system, the enteric nervous system, the fascial system, the musculoskeletal system…it ALL need to be addressed. 

 

Over the last ~15 years we have learned more about pain than in the previous 100 years.   As a result, the way we approach persistent pain has changed dramatically.   This is an exciting and encouraging time for those who are suffering.  No matter how long you have been living with pain, the great news is it is never too late to change it and some amount of improvement is always a possibility.

 

However it is important to understand that once pain persists past the normal tissue healing timeframe we are no longer simply dealing with “an issue in the tissue”.  All the following factors effect, and are effect by, pain and need to be taken into consideration for healing to take place:

 

  • The nervous system

  • The immune system

  • The endocrine system

  • The enteric nervous system

  • Balance between the sympathetic (fight, flight, freeze) and parasympathetic (rest, digest & repair) nervous systems

  • Diet – food is medicine

  • Sleep

  • Breath

  • Rest / respite

  • Body awareness / Kinesthetic awareness

  • Interoception (awareness of our internal environment and sensations)

  • Movement (or lack thereof)

  • Attitudes, thoughts and beliefs about pain

  • Support, or lack thereof, from family, friends and the medical community

  • Cultural and religious beliefs

 

Addressing the tissues through exercise and some form of manual therapy can be very helpful but often not enough on their own as chronic pain is a complex problem.  It is important to understand how much context can affect the pain process. Our thoughts, our beliefs, how happy we are, how unhappy we are, whether we’re feeling any anger or disappointment, fear, etc… All of these, and more, will play a role in whether pain persists and how we respond to treatment. 

 

Take the example of an athlete who injures themselves while scoring the winning touchdown in the Super Bowl compared to the athlete who injures themselves fumbling the ball on the losing play in the Super Bowl. Studies show that it is much more likely that the player who injured themselves in the loss will have an injury that is more difficult to recover from. This is because our state of mind has a strong influence on our physiology. Our emotions change the chemistry inside the body and those chemicals and hormones dictate the health of our tissues.  Understanding this gives us the opportunity to use our state of mind, our thoughts, our emotions to aid in the recovery process.

 

It’s a marathon, not a sprint

It is common for humans to look for the ‘quick fix’, the magic pill, treatment or professional that is going to miraculously get rid of their pain. When it comes to chronic pain, it is essential to understand that recovery is a process that requires time and commitment to gradually, gently and safely assist the body back to its natural state of balance.  When in balance, the human body has an incredible capacity to autoregulate, to heal itself.  When out of balance, the ability to autoregulate is disrupted and becomes less powerful, less effective.

 

 

Pain is essentially a message, a signal from our brain. It is our nervous system’s way of trying to protect us from real or perceived danger. Pain is the body’s way of getting us to pay attention and ideally change our behavior. Rather than thinking of pain as the enemy, understanding that pain is simply a message being delivered BY your own body TO your body can open the door to engaging in a conversation with your soma.  This way you can begin to work with your body to find a solution rather than working against yourself.

 

KNOW pain, KNOW gain 

The old-school concept of “no pain, no gain” absolutely does not work for chronic pain. Rather, “KNOW pain, KNOW gain” are the words to live by. Studies show that the more a person understands about the pain process the less fear there is surrounding the pain and the less bothersome that pain becomes.