Chronic Pain: The Vicious Cycle

If you or someone you know are dealing with chronic pain, please read this blog post and share it with other people.  

I've worked with and know many people with chronic pain and their quality of life is negatively affected by pain.  Most of them have tried many things (pain meds, injections, chiro, acupuncture, PT, massage, Yoga, you name it).  Each helped to a certain degree but only for a short period of time.  None resolved their pain.  They were given so many different diagnoses by different health care professionals.  Each time they saw a new healthcare provider, they were given a new diagnosis, and they became more confused about what's going on and they gradually became fearful of movement as they were afraid of causing more damage.  They were in a vicious pain cycle.

This scenario is actually very common in people with chronic pain.  Unfortunately, not all healthcare providers have a good understanding of current pain science.  Since there's a plenty of great resources available, I will not go into details about pain science.  A short video below helps you understand pain.

Why is it important to understand pain?  One of the most common misconception about pain is that pain = tissue damage, and pain is telling our brain that there's a damage.  However, this is not true.  The brain produces pain only when it perceives a threat to the system regardless of tissue damage.  This is why phantom pain, perceptions that an individual experiences related to a limb or organ that is not physically part of the body,  exists.  

In people with chronic pain, their nervous system has become so sensitive that it can perceive even normal stimuli as a threat, thus produce pain easily.  Their pain experience is due to sensitive nervous system, not tissue damage.  In order to get them out of pain cycle, they first need to understand the mechanism of pain.  As long as they still believe that pain = tissue damage, the nervous system continues to stay sensitive and react to movement easily by producing pain. Knowledge is a very powerful therapy that can rewire the brain.  When cognition and understanding about pain change, the nervous system starts to become less sensitized and will not perceive normal stimuli as a threat. Movement is absolutely necessary for recovery, but as long as the brain still perceives movement as a threat, you will continue to experience pain.  This is very important  for me as a movement educator/therapist.  Many clients are dealing with chronic pain, thus, I am very careful about how I use my words as words can influence their cognition/beliefs, which can have either positive or negative effects on the nervous system.  For example, if I frequently use negative words like "broken," "weak," "torn," "out of alignment," etc, then they become more anxious, worried, fearful, and confused, which is perceived as a threat by the nervous system.  The result:  PAIN!  The opposite is also true.  I certainly try to use words to help my clients get out of the vicious cycle of pain.