What Is Chronic Pain?

Pain is a very curious phenomenon, and over the long history of humankind, the brain has used pain to develop very complex ways to keep the body protected. You might be asking yourself a variety of questions, such as: Why have I had this pain for so long? Why am I being told to move even though I have pain; shouldn’t I let it heal first?

Physiotherapists often have varied methods for pain relief, depending on your condition, and what you’re feeling. Below we’ve compiled a few things you need to know about chronic pain, such as back pain or neck pain, so that you can understand what you’re feeling and start to work towards managing your pain.

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So what exactly is pain, and what is chronic pain?

Ultimately, pain exists to help the body. It warns us when we are in danger of tissue damage and helps us avoid whatever risky thing we’re doing.

Chronic pain is a very complicated problem, and usually it relates less to what your tissues are doing, and more to what your brain is doing. Just like with the sunburn analogy people with chronic pain become extra sensitive to both nociceptive and non-nociceptive sensations, except unlike the sunburn it doesn’t go away after a week and some aloe vera. The pathways in the brain shift in chronic pain, putting all these signals that would have been ignored into the cerebral spotlight!

What causes pain? 

Pain is a sensation that exists in the brain, not the body. Now this isn’t to say that your pain is ‘all in your head’, but what it means is that just because you’re in pain it doesn’t necessarily mean that your body is being harmed. Generally speaking, pain starts as an unconscious signal in the body called ‘nociception’.

How are nociception and pain different, and why is that important?

Nociception is the unconscious signal that the nerves in your body experience anytime they are being damaged (or are at imminent risk of being damaged). These nociceptive signals can be produced by extreme temperature changes, chemical damages, or mechanical damages to the tissues. These signals travel from your body to your brain where an unconscious decision is made to say whether or not you need to be made aware of it. If your brain decides you need to know about then that translates into the pain signal.

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Why would I ever not want to be aware of nociception?

Nociception can be helpful, but your brain is constantly filtering through these signals so things that aren’t actually dangerous to you don’t need to be brought to your attention. In some cases, this filter can become weak, and then things that aren’t painful become painful, and things that are painful can become worse. 

A sunburn is a good example of this; your skin can become painful to touch despite it not being harmful for you to do so. Our bodies go through a healthy amount of wear on a routine basis anyway, so its better for us in the long run not to experience every detail.

How Can Graceville Physio Help With Chronic Pain?

As previously mentioned, chronic pain is complicated, but there is some light at the end of the tunnel. Research shows that physiotherapist-led programs can help improve not only pain in these conditions but also overall ability and quality of life [1]. 

Ultimately, chronic pain is a team effort; it’s important that someone with chronic pain finds a healthcare team that suits them so they can have the support and help they need in their journey. The first step can sometimes be the hardest, so if you have any questions about your pain then have a chat with your physio today and see what they can do for you.

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