How to Naturally Treat Chronic Pain
According to Institute of Medicine of The National Academies, 100 million Americans suffer from chronic pain. The research is very clear about chronic pain. It really is all in your head – your brain that is. But that doesn’t make it any less real. The purpose of pain is to alert the body of an issue that is present. But why then, years after an injury, will people still have pain?
The Purpose of Pain
The root purpose of pain is to avoid future pain. That may seem like an oxymoron, but it can make some real sense if you look at how effective pain can be at doing this. How likely are you to put your full weight on an ankle you just rolled?
Because of this, it reduces the likely hood of you rolling the ankle again. Of course, this drastically changes the way you walk leading to wear on tissues and muscle imbalances. Muscles will get tight to protect and splint injured areas, as well as reduced ability to contract the muscle (arthogenic muscle inhibition) in order to avoid further injury to the area.
Over time these compensations should resolve as the injury itself heals. When the compensations do not resolve, then chronic pain sets in.
Birth of Chronic Pain
The brain is exceptionally adaptive. It can sort out by priority of importance through the stimulation it receives or doesn’t. For example, a powerlifter is adapted to maximally contract muscles to squat heavy weights. However, the lifter that stops training will start to drastically lose those adaptations. In chronic pain, we lose our awareness of certain areas of the body after pain goes unchecked. This process is called “cortical smudging.”
The key to reducing or eliminating this “smudging” effect is to stimulate the sites of sensitization. Another big word? Ok, last one. Sensitization is the process that instigates the chronic pain loop. (See below) The two have opposite effects but work together to perpetuate the problem. One greatly improves a neurocircuit and the other dampen its ability. In other words, we dampen sensitization and stimulate parts of the brain to bring definition or clarity to remove smudging.
If you or someone you know is experiencing chronic pain, then please seek out a qualified professional. Many times it can be reversed with proper treatment and attention. While sensitization and smudging are huge players in chronic pain, they aren’t the only ones. Pain is not normal and it’s not you just “getting old.”
Stay tuned for follow up articles on specific chronic pain related injuries where I’ll include common sites of sensitization! Leave a comment below for any specific recommendations!
Dr. Todd Anderson DC, MS