Chronic Pain Explained

When pain has lasted for more than about six months, pain has less to do with the health of the tissues and more about the increased sensitivity of the nervous system. Factors that can increase the sensitivity of the nervous system and pain you feel include family concerns, stress, poor sleep habits, poor diet, impaired beliefs regarding pain, fear and anxiety, failed treatments, and different explanations from medical professionals. The factors mentioned above increase the chances of pain continuing long after the healing of tissues has taken place. 

Pain and Changes in Weather 
Nerves contain sensors that work like an alarm system that is designed to warn us of danger. These sensors give us feedback on temperature, movement, stress, immunity, and blood flow. When life is good, these sensors are balanced and there is enough of each sensor to give helpful feedback. When a person develops pain, more sensors of a certain kind tend to be produced.

When you’re faced with a stressful situation, stress sensors may activate your alarm system and lead to pain. When it’s cold outside, temperature may activate your alarm system. These sensors aren’t necessarily sending an alarm that your tissues are damaged. The feedback you receive from these sensors may only mean that you’re stressed and need to calm down, or its cold outside. Sensors are always changing and being created based on what your brain thinks you need. Once the pain becomes more understood and the threat is diminished, sensors restore to a normal, healthy balance. 

Pushing Through Pain
When pushing through pain, the brain is getting practice setting off an alarm. As with any other task, we get better at what we practice. The brain may believe there is a legitimate threat present even though there is no danger. Those with chronic pain must learn to pace themselves with all tasks and slowly build up tolerance over time. For example, you may have a goal to vacuum your entire house. Determine how much you could do in one day that includes taking out the vacuum, vacuuming a room, and putting away the vacuum without being down for several days following that task. Split your large goals into several smaller goals to begin building up tolerance so the task you’re completing becomes non-threatening. It is through further understanding pain that we begin to experience it less. 

If you suffer from chronic pain, a physical therapist can help. Physical therapists treat movement restrictions and strength deficits in all joints of the body, improve body mechanics and posture, prevent re-injury and restore daily function through pain control, exercise, manual therapy, and education.

For more information, contact the Columbus Regional Health Rehabilitation Center, or talk to your physician about obtaining a referral. 

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