Pain is the most common reason people seek medical help. If this pain persists for a period longer than 6 months or beyond expected healing time it is then considered to be chronic pain. One in five Australians suffer with chronic pain and this prevalence increases to one in three people over the age of 65. Even with this high prevalence and high cost to the medical system there is still a misunderstanding to chronic pain both in the general public and in our health care system.
Pain is an important part of life that warns us of potential harm and dangers to our health. When we accidentally cut our finger while chopping the vegetables for dinner the pain response that follows is your body’s way of telling you something is wrong. But the pain does not originate from your finger. In fact, the nerves in your finger sends signals to your brain to let it know something sharp has touched your finger with increased force. Your brain then interprets these messages as danger and creates pain to warn you.
The problem occurs when the brain starts to interpret normal nerve signals as danger. When this happens people can feel pain when there is no danger present and this can lead to chronic pain.
For example, someone may have injured their lower back at work bending forward to pick something heavy up causing a lot of pain. While injury was still healing it was painful when bending forward because there was danger of aggravating the injury. After a couple of months, the injury had healed and there was no danger in bending forward but this movement still caused pain. The brain started to associate bending forward with danger and so continued to send pain signals even after the injury had healed.
It is not only past experiences that alter the brains perception of danger. There are many contributing factors including anxiety, fear, knowledge, situation, beliefs, social and employment status and many more. Even using different visual and auditory stimulus has been proven to change people pain levels. For example an identical finger injury will cause more pain in a violinist than in a dancer because the finger damage poses more of a threat to the violinist.
Treatment for chronic pain ranges for the different types and causes of pain. Understanding your pain is the first important step when trying to recover from chronic pain. This can be achieved with talking to a doctor, psychologist or exercise physiologist that specialises in chronic pain.
Using physical activity to promote pain free movement is very important to include into any chronic pain treatment plan. Often activity is avoided when pain has increased which leads to increased stiffness and more pain. If inactivity continues muscles will begin to weaken increasing pressure on joints and reducing the ability to perform normal daily tasks and in turn increase pain levels. To stop this pain cycle, it is best to implement a rehabilitation
exercise program designed to improve muscle function surrounding the painful site and promote pain free movement.