Pain has become a much discussed and debated topic as of late within the health care communities. Pain used to be viewed as a side effect or symptom of a disease process. It was thought that once you fix, cure, or calm down the disease process, the pain will go away. Pain was looked at as a side effect.
Now research is showing that pain can become a separate disease process and not just a symptom of another disease. Research has been increasing in this topic since the Institute of Medicine released a report calling on academia, government and physician groups to develop a plan for treating and managing pain.
Chronic pain affects more than 100 million Americans each and every day. 42 million Americans have their sleep interrupted on a regular basis due to pain. 26 million Americans report back pain. These numbers are staggering. That is a lot of people suffering from pain on a regular basis.
Part of the problem is that western medicine doesn’t have many tools for dealing with chronic pain. Medical doctors can prescribe pain medications, muscle relaxers or steroids. These medications can help reduce pain, but they are not going to address the cause of the problem. It is putting a band aid on the problem. It may reduce some of the symptoms temporarily, but it will not get rid of the pain or even get rid of it for an extended period of time.
Another treatment for chronic pain that western medicine uses is physical therapy (PT). PT can be very good, but it depends on who does the therapy, and how well you stick to the program. PT will not be affective if the muscles are tight, irritated, spasmed and inflamed. If you try to strengthen up an tight and imbalanced muscle, you will only drive that imbalance and irritation deeper into your system, the imbalance will become more and more ingrained into your system. This will make it harder and harder to get worked out over time.
Research is showing that chronic pain becomes its’ own entity unto itself. If someone suffers from prolonged exposure to pain, the brain and nervous system will actually rewire itself to facilitate the pain pathways. So even when the original cause of the pain is gone, the pain is still present.
For as long as I have been practicing trigger point therapy, I have observed the recent research at work in patient’s bodies. I work with trigger points. How trigger points are formed and how they stick around is due to neurological re-wiring.
When a muscle gets tight and irritated, usually due to trauma, injury, or repetitive motions, it can get so tight that it actually tears on a microscopic level. This tearing causes the rest of the muscle to reflexively contract to prevent further tearing. The muscle contracts so hard that it establishes a neurological pathway between the muscle and the spinal cord. This pathway, called a reflex arc, perpetuates the muscle spasm and can keep it going for weeks to months to years. This neurological disruption can go up and down the spinal cord to affect other regions and other muscles as well.
Once this neurological pathway, or neural scar, is established, it will be there for the rest of your life. So even when the muscles fall out of this pattern of spasm and inflammation, the neurological pathway will still be there. This makes your muscles more susceptible to falling back into that pattern of spasm and inflammation when the body is stressed. The previously injured muscle, or muscles, will be the first place that you feel it when you put stress on your body. This area becomes your weak link in the kinetic chain.
This is very pertinent to low back pain. It is documented that the best predetermining factor to getting low back pain is to have had low back before. Once you injure those low back muscles, and heal them and go on with your life, you will have low back pain again in the future. Having low back pain one time will establish those neurological pathways or neural scars. These neural scars make it easy for the muscles to fall back into the old patterns of spasm and inflammation.
How can you control this cycle and reduce chronic pain and inflammation? By keeping the muscles loose and strong. The looser and stronger a muscle is, the less likely it will be injured from trauma or repetitive motions. The muscles will be better able to deal with the stresses of daily life that irritate everyone’s muscles and bodies.
It’s just a matter of doing the right exercises to strengthen up the right muscles and to loosen up the right muscles as well. If you are in pain, ease your way into exercise. If you are in pain, doing hard core, high impact exercise will only increase your pain. You have to start out easy, like walking, swimming, biking, etc for 10 to 15 minutes to start with. Don’t go crazy with exercise at the beginning. Pain Free Lifestyle will have an exercise program that will take you step by step into exercising. It will help you ease your way into exercise so that you don’t hurt yourself.
Also do not neglect stretching. Stretching is essential to loosening up your muscles, balancing them, and keeping them feeling good. If you want to keep exercising, then you have to stretch. It will prevent the muscles from getting so tight that they tear.
Eating right can also affect your pain levels. We are suffering from an epidemic of chronic, low grade inflammation in our bodies. This inflammation will not create a problem, but it will certainly make it worse. Throw some inflammation on top of an already inflamed muscle and it will make it worse.
You can control some of this chronic, low grade inflammation by watching what you eat. If you eat highly processed foods with partially hydrogenated oils and trans fatty acids in it, you will increase the inflammation in your body. If you can eat fresh fruits and vegetables and take vitamins, you can decrease this chronic, low grade inflammation in your body and therefore decrease the level of pain that you are in.
Dr. Oz wrote the following article on chronic pain and how to deal with it without pills. It is an interesting read that anyone in chronic pain should read. He mentions trigger point therapy as an alternative to medication for treating pain. He recommends dry needling the trigger points. Dry needling is the act of taking a needle and repeatedly digging it into a trigger point. This will break up the neurological pathways over time, but it is very painful and hard on your body. It will also create scar tissue which in the long run will create more adhesions. Scar tissue and adhesions will alter how a muscle moves by restricting the motion of the muscle and therefore will alter your body mechanics and can cause other issues.
I recommend treating trigger points with manual palpation, meaning I use my hands and fingers to feel or palpate the trigger points and then I apply pressure to the trigger points. This pressure is enough to disrupt the neurological pathways that perpetuate the muscle spasm. It will also increase blow flow to the area and help wash away much of the inflammatory waste products that will build up in a spasmed muscle. This approach to treating trigger points is much easier on the body than dry needling. The treatment is tender, but not nearly as painful as being repeatedly stabbed by a needle. And research is showing that the manual palpation and treatment of trigger points is very effective at reducing and eliminating trigger points, and therefore reducing pain.
Once you learn how to exercise and eat properly, and address the areas that are causing you pain through trigger point therapy, message, acupuncture, or another type of alternative, non-invasive technique, you will be able to reduce your pain which will allow you to be more active to enjoy the activities that you want to do. And that is the Pain Free way.