Breaking the Cycle of Chronic Pain
As the clouds begin to clear and the sun shines through, getting outside (safely of course) is all that more enticing. However, for those struggling with chronic pain, this call to the outdoors may come as a loud reminder that our bodies just aren’t where we would like them to be. The constant aches and pains have not gone away or worse yet, have become more severe. If you or someone you love struggles with chronic pain, this blog is for you! We will break down the enormous field of chronic/persistent pain and answer the questions – what is going on in the bodies of those with chronic pain? How do we begin to address it?
Step 1 – Understanding your pain
The first and most important step to treating pain is, understanding pain. When we have an incident that might cause harm or discomfort, the process of “nociception” is what allows the body to detect that unpleasant stimuli – whereas the actual sensation of pain is the brain’s output that comes after an unpleasant sensory or emotional experience. Therefore, when describing something as painful, we are actually describing the brain’s perception of the event rather than what our bodies are physically sensing.
Step 2 – Identifying the body’s purpose for pain
Next, we must understand that the purpose of pain is to protect. It is our brain’s way of communicating perceived distress to ensure we modify our behaviours to promote healing – a fundamental mechanism that saves lives. However, not all pain is equal. Pain and injury have a variable relationship. Sometimes small inputs, like a bump on the leg, can produce a large amount of pain while life-threatening injuries can result in very little pain. Fascinatingly, neuroscience research has shown that this happens because it is the brain’s interpretation of the meaning of these events that determine the severity of pain, and not the actual messages being sent to the brain. The worse our brain believes the damage is, the more painful it is. In other words, what we are feeling is not an accurate indicator of what is going on in the tissues of our bodies. The brain actually decides what is painful – not our tissues!
Step 3 – Knowing that pain is a learned sensation
The next critical step is to understand that our pain system learns. That is, chronic pain changes the wiring in our brain. As pain persists, our brain becomes oversensitive and tries to protect us by labelling once harmless inputs (emotions, thoughts, behaviours) as painful. The longer our brains believe we are in pain, the better it becomes at producing pain – and the vicious cycle ensues. The very mechanism designed to save our lives starts to ruin our lives. As a result, we are tricked into a cycle of pain, fear, and immobilization; we are afraid that even the slightest bend, twist or stretch will be our last. However, these feelings are not accurate! Just as modern science has illuminated what goes on in the body and mind of those suffering from chronic pain, it offers us answers and hope in how to overcome this cruel reality.
The final step – Rethinking our pain
As it takes time for our bodies and brains to get us into this mess, it takes time and effort to get us out of it. The most important step in addressing the root cause of chronic pain is understanding and rethinking our pain. We need to shift our understanding of pain from being a measure of tissue damage to what it really is, which is a well-intended, but faulty brain wiring that is overprotective. Understanding the mechanism behind persistent pain allows us to shift from feeling victimized and hopeless to becoming empowered masters of our body and mind. This simple but enormous shift enables us to reverse the faulty wiring and take steps toward finally reclaiming our bodies.
Building from this understanding of pain, we can incorporate treatments to support physical, mental and emotional rehabilitation. Integrating these treatments will help to quiet this faulty wiring, and will eventually allow us to truly get back to our best selves!
To get support with managing chronic pain and getting back to and active lifestyle, schedule in for an initial Naturopathic Visit with Dr. Luke Mountjoy, ND today.
Call (604) 974-8999 or email firstname.lastname@example.org today to schedule your appointment.