Pain. It is something we all have experienced to one extent or another. More than 100 million Americans have some form of persistent pain and one in three people have chronic pain1. By way of definition, acute pain is that which lasts a few weeks to months. This is generally from an injury like an ankle sprain or back strain. However, pain lasting three months or more is referred to as chronic pain. From intensive research studying chronic pain, we have come to know that soft tissue problems are not the issue.
Pain is an important part of everyday life. It is a warning signal that protects us. We now know through current research that pain is 100% produced by the brain2. This includes all pain, no matter how it feels or how long you have had it. However, with chronic pain, our brain is producing excessive warning signals.
Earlier studies led us to believe that pain only came from a physical stimulus, but we now have discovered that we can have pain without an outside force. Thoughts and places may activate warning signals from the brain and the pain feels exactly the same! Stress, challenges at work or home, or having unsuccessful previous treatments can contribute to the brain producing more pain. So, the way you think about your pain can change the way it feels.
The old way we understood pain did not explain these things and left many people feeling like nobody believed it was real. Or, for them to hurt so badly, there must be a persistent soft tissue problem. Understanding the pathways of the pain system helps us understand how to address them.
Knowing what to do when you have chronic pain can be very difficult. Having a brain that produces pain even after the tissues have healed can be quite challenging. Ongoing pain is less about structural changes and more about sensitivity of the nervous system. The nervous system acts as our alarm system, sometimes overreacting.
Thankfully, there are new approaches that help retrain your pain system. These include getting moving without fear and decreasing the brain’s perception of threat, so it does not feel the need to overprotect us. While it seems counterintuitive, studies find that more active approaches have shown to be the most beneficial in this retraining effort. In addition to getting your body moving in a safe environment, decreasing stress and improving emotional wellbeing helps dampen down our nervous system. All of our thoughts and beliefs are brain impulses too.
Pain is normal but living with pain is devastating and it changes every aspect of your life. If you are experiencing pain in any capacity, as a Therapeutic Pain Specialist, I am here to help. We also have physicians and physician assistants who specialize in pain management, primarily of the neck and spine. To learn more about managing your chronic pain or to schedule an appointment with one of our pain management specialists, call us at 800.698.1280. It takes a lot of courage to conquer your pain, but trust me, there is hope.
As a Therapeutic Pain Specialist, Katelyn Kraus specializes in treating individuals with persistent and chronic pain through therapy. She earned her Doctorate of Physical Therapy from West Coast University Center for Graduate Studies and is also a Certified Athletic Trainer and ASTYM certified. Katelyn believes that educating and empowering patients, incorporating functional movements with exercise and maintaining a strong mind-body connection is the key returning patients to full function.
- Institute of Medicine 2012: Relieving Pain in America. Nahin RL. Estimates of pain prevalence and severity in adults: United States, 2012. The Journal of Pain: official Journal of the American Pain Society. Aug 2015; 16 (8); 769-780.
- Moseley, L. “No brain, no pain: it is in the mind, so test results can make it worse.” Body In Mind. May 2015. https://bodyinmind.org/no-brain-no-pain/