Chronic pain is a condition requiring comprehensive management  Patients with this condition may have already been through the traditional medical system with blood tests, x-rays, MRI’s, and injections, and yet they still don’t have an answer to what is going on with their body.  A diagnosis or multiple diagnoses may be made –  fibromyalgia, disc herniation, lumbago, cervicalgia, stenosis, arthritis – but treatment of the diagnosed conditions doesn’t change the pain. Perhaps because treatment is missing the point.  If your pain system itself is messed up, no treatment will fix the pain until the pain system is treated.

How Do Nerves Work With Chronic Pain (or How Is the Nervous System Like a Business)?

Let’s picture the nervous system like a company.  The brain is the CEO of the company, the department managers are the spinal cord, and all of the nerves in the body are the workers.  In a normal company, messages get sent from the workers to the managers, and if the message is important enough it will get sent to the CEO.  When the CEO gets the message it fixes the problem and things go back to normal.

However, if a problem persists, the CEO starts to request more information, and instead of going through managers, they want the messages directly.  Nerves work the same way in chronic pain patients.  If a problem persists , the brain wants to know everything about the area, causing an increase in information to be relayed, what we call “sensitization” for the area.  Below is a diagram describing how nerves can become overly sensitized.

In the diagram you can see how the body’s wiring becomes dysfunctional.  Your body and brain work together to become essentially an overprotective “guardian angel.”    This guardian angel learned to “turn up the volume” of your pain and to over-guard your movement patterns to “protect” you from hurting yourself further.  These adaptations are worsened or accelerated by stress – and who wouldn’t be stressed if they had pain all the time?  So it’s a vicious cycle.  This cycle is illustrated below.

 

Many factors affect the pain experience, including a busy environment, an increase in stress, failed past treatments, an increase in fear and anxiety, or social issues with family or work.

Treating the Pain System

Two treatment plans need to take place for you to heal; one of them addresses your headache or herniated disc or plantar fasciitis (or fill-in-the-blank.)  The other one addresses fixing your pain system.  Both of these areas must be treated for you to get better.  The simple steps involve learning to calm your sympathetic (“fight or flight”) nervous system, modifying your behavior to reduce stress on your tissues while still staying active, normalizing impaired movement patterns (many of which you didn’t even realize you’ve developed) and following medical plans that support healing your pain system.   Below is a list of ways that we treat your pain system.

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