How to Stop Chronic Pain for Good
Most people originally come to us because they want to stop feeling pain. That's their main goal. Others want more. They want to do things like play golf better, lift their grand-kids, exercise without hurting, or go on hikes during vacations. We can help both types of people in our office: those who just want to stop hurting and those who want to function or perform better overall. But, I think many people who only want to stop the pain haven't learned about something called "chronic pain."
Most people would like to feel better permanently and have a healthy life, right? But they might not know that to get better, it takes more than just making the pain go away. Getting rid of pain is just the first step. In this article, we'll explain why only focusing on stopping the pain might not be the best idea. Working on resilience and prevention after the pain is gone is really important for long-lasting results.
Understanding the Chronic Pain Cycle
Pain: Imagine a situation where you've experienced physical harm, like a neck injury from a car crash. Or sitting at your desk at work without moving for 8 hours straight. At that moment, the first thing you'll notice is the sensation of pain. In this context, you can view pain as the trigger that sets off the cycle of discomfort.
Fear of Injury: In order for your body to avoid further injury, we experience muscle guarding. This is the body's way of protecting an injury by making muscles around it tense up. This muscle tension often lasts long after the injury is gone. You begin avoiding using your body normally due to fear of injuring the area.
Decrease in Activity: When you're fearful that using the area of injury will further damage it, or it still hurts to perform it, you stop exercising and doing the activities that you normally do. Now your total activity level has decreased and you aren't moving around as much.
Muscle & Flexibility Loss: When we experience prolonged muscle guarding and restricted movement, we don't it can lead to muscle weakness and loss of muscle mass. Our body is efficient and conserves energy. If an injured area isn't being used, it gradually weakens and loses muscle mass. It's not receiving the necessary energy input. This is similar to how we lose muscle mass when we stop working out. Or when find it challenging to remember things we haven't recalled in a while; our body prioritizes resources based on immediate needs.
Increase in Pain: Your body might compensate by using other joints and muscles to make up for the lost movement. For instance, if your neck is injured and stiff, you might use your lower spine to look up or rotate your body instead of your neck for looking over the shoulder. Now you're using your body in ways that it wasn't meant for. You start to experience an increase in pain in other areas aside from the initial injury site.
Unwanted Thoughts, Anxiety, Depression: Stress, like frustration, anger, and depression, can add to our physical pain. These emotions increase tension and reduce motivation. This makes the pain cycle worse as we ignore physical problems like muscle tension, limited movement, muscle weakening, and loss of function. This creates a loop where each part of the cycle makes the others worse, forming a cycle that amplifies pain.
Breaking the Cycle
So, how do we break out of this loop? When people become patients at Tidal Chiropractic, we first address their immediate and most pressing concern: pain. This is the often the primary driver that brings them in. However, once pain goes away, the treatment plan isn't over! This is where the real magic happens. At this point it's common for patients to say, "I feel fine now, why should I keep going?"
Pain is the last symptom to arrive and the first to leave. Dysfunction is what we really need to address. By using a combination of passive and active modalities we are able to overcome pain and improve function. These include things such as muscle work, adjusting, and rehabilitative exercise. After the pain is gone, we want to increase flexibility, strength, core stability, balance, spatial awareness, range of motion, among other factors. None of which is addressing pain.
You must overcome your desire for a quick fix and realize real results take time. Do you think a bodybuilder gets his physique by lifting weights 3 times a week for a month and then stopping? Do you hire a trainer at the gym to lose weight and then quit once you've reached your target weight? Does the gym trainer say "OK, you've achieved fitness, call me when you're fat again so we can start over." Of course not. While becoming a bodybuilder isn't the goal of most, getting lasting relief from chronic pain is. If it's your desire to get lasting results instead of a quick fix, and you're committed to doing the work it takes to make a difference, let us help you get there. Contact us to find out more about how we can help or if you're ready to begin the process.