By: Kyle D. McIntyre, PT, DPT, CFMT
Pain is a normal part of life, and without the perception of pain we would not survive. However, pain should be a temporary experience versus an ongoing sensation when no threat is present.
If you, or someone you care about, have chronic pain, the questions you’re likely asking are: “Why?” and, “What can I do to make it stop?”
In the medical and holistic fields, our understanding of what triggers pain has increased greatly during the past 15-20 years. This expansion of knowledge has led to innovative pain treatments, especially for those living with ongoing discomfort.
What causes pain?
While injured or inflamed tissues cannot feel pain, these tissues (via nerves) do activate your brain’s nociceptive (the potential for pain) pathways.
Essentially, the over-activation of nerves, by the tissues, causes your spinal cord to become more sensitive (at the area of the spinal cord where those nerves are entering), allowing a flooding of inputs to go up to your brain. Your brain processes the input, just as it constantly manages all of the inputs from your body, at a subconscious level.
Your brain will then become hyper-focused on the area of your body where those nerves are coming from. If your brain perceives the threat to be serious, it will produce a pain output.
Over time, with continued nociceptive inputs, the related nerves will have a reduced threshold for activation and will then start firing at lower levels of stimulation – even from stimulations (movement or sensory inputs) that previously would not have produced pain.
This sensitization of your nervous system can lead to things beyond just pain: it can cause mood swings, fatigue, appetite changes, sleep disturbances, loss of concentration, and depression.
How do I make the pain go away?
The pain can be managed, and often eliminated, by changing this vicious cycle of neural sensitization:
- Recent research reveals just having a better understanding of pain leads to a reduction in discomfort.
- Aerobic exercise has also been known to reduce pain.
- Sleep hygiene is also important; good sleep enables your nervous system to relax and restore itself at night. (There are some great sleep tips in Cathy Logan’s recent article “ONDAMED Sleep Protocol + At-home Tips”)
- Treat the source of the pain input (at the tissues) through function manual therapy (FMT).
As an FMT practitioner, I work to desensitize a client’s pain and decrease the stress on the tissues.
Generally, at the areas where pain originated, there was a mechanical dysfunction (that increased stress on the tissues and elevated the pain perception in that area). Through manual therapy, we can reduce the stresses on the tissues, which also increases blood flow and oxygen, and detoxifies by helping to eliminate waste from the area.
Reducing the inappropriate mechanical stress on tissues can dramatically change the activation of the nociceptive pathways, and, therefore, cause a positive trickle-up affect to the brain. Ultimately, pain is significantly diminished or eliminated.
Kyle is a Physical Therapist with a Doctorate in Physical Therapy; he is also a Certified Functional Manual Therapist.