Pain is a normal protective sensation produced by the brain. When you get injured, the specialised nerves in your body tissue send information to your brain. The brain then considers this information and produces pain so that you can respond and take the right action to remove the injury or threat.
Chronic pain can be severe and interfere with daily functions. One in five Australians suffer from chronic pain, according to the Australian Pain Management Association.
Acute pain usually occurs from an identifiable injury like a bruise or muscle strain.
Chronic Pain is a different story. It can often be traumatic, isolating and misunderstood.
If you live in chronic pain it’s important to know that your nervous system changes, which flows on to affect your thoughts, feelings and movements.
The key is to learn how to manage the pain as effectively as you possibly can – and that’s where an osteopath may help.
Dr Terry Stewart (Osteopath) MScMed (Pain Management)
What’s the difference between acute and chronic pain?
Acute pain usually occurs from an identifiable new injury and as the tissues recover the pain will ease and resolve. This means acute pain has a useful purpose that promotes healing and recovery.
Chronic pain is a different story it does not seem to have any useful purpose. It tends to persist for 3 months or longer and instead of getting less it stays the same or gets worse. One of the major factors that underlie chronic pain is neuroplasticity.
Neuroplasticity: This means the brain and the nervous system can change their structure and function. When an injury is not resolved because of re-injury or continued exacerbation the protective nerves are constantly activated. This continued signalling increases the sensitivity of the nerve pathways and they begin to signal more easily and more often. The brain is now receiving an increased amount of information and thinks the tissues are under threat so it produces pain relative to the level of increased signals. These changes can last for a long time and in some cases can become permanent even after adequate tissue healing time has passed.
The increased sensitivity in the brain and nervous system means pain will be experienced on minor movements and last for longer. This often leads to the thought that pain means injury when it is likely caused by an overprotective brain thinking there is a threat to tissues. Because of these thoughts people will begin to fear pain thinking it means injury and do less which reduces the ability to work and engage in fun activities. The flow on here is strength and condition decease; frustration, anger and psychological distress can occur and these factors can have a significant impact on pain intensity.
How can I prevent acute pain from becoming chronic pain?
Everyone is different and sometimes genetics or diseases may play a role in altering the nervous system and these factors might predispose some people to increased chance of chronic pain.
In a lot of cases the need to work and take care of the family put people in a position where we push through pain. This is where re-injury and exacerbation of an injury can occur.
As tough as it may be somehow finding a way to listen to pain and manage everyday activities better needs to be done to allow the injury to recover.
Sometimes treatment from your local Osteopath can help. The Osteopath can also refer you to other allied health professionals such as exercise physiologists to improve strength and conditioning and maybe a psychologist to help with frustration, anger, anxiety, depression and distress that often occurs when trying to live a life with chronic pain.