If you’ve found yourself listening reading this article because you’re experiencing prolonged pain yourself or supporting a family member or loved one in pain, I’m sorry you’re in this position and I literally feel your pain (Chronic pain that is) as I myself have lived with chronic pain syndrome every day of my life for the past 1o years.
As a result of my experience living with chronic pain syndrome which affects my back and neck, I unfortunately have an incredible knowledge of what chronic pain is and why and how it occurs in the body. Whilst I certainly wish I knew absolutely nothing about chronic pain, the fact of the matter is that myself and other chronic pain syndrome sufferers actually no more about chronic pain than most GP’s as it’s a medical area greatly lacking in widespread knowledge and education outside of the tiny percentage of Doctors who specialise in chronic pain.
So today’s video and article will be my explanation of what is chronic pain, and I will also follow up with a second video in the near future of my experience and advice of how to best live with and manage chronic pain.
Generally speaking, and using a fractured wrist as an example, when the wrist bone is fractured, the recipient of that injury experiences immediate pain that is localized to the area where the wrist bone has been fractured.
Following the injury that person will go to a Doctor or hospital, have the arm stabilized in a sling, be given short term pain relief drugs and the Doctor will potentially arrange to have the wrist placed in a cast to facilitate the healing process and arrange for some rehabilitation therapy such as physiotherapy.
Whilst we all know this person is experiencing pain because they’ve fractured the bone in their wrist, to really understand chronic pain you need to understand exactly how the human body processes pain in the first place.
I’m now going to use the example of a child touching a stove top or hot plate in the kitchen to explain how the body experiences and processes pain. A child will place their finger on a stove top or hot plate and then remove that finger within million seconds because they felt a painful burning sensation.
Despite experiencing that pain in a matter of milliseconds, an incredibly complex series of events have actually taken place within the body during that very short space of time.
As soon as the child touched the hot plate, the nerve receptors in his or her finger fired off to the base of the spine. Those nerve receptors then traveled up through the child’s highly complex central nervous system until they reached the brain.
It’s important to note that at this stage that despite this series of events occurring in the body, only milliseconds have passed and the child’s finger is still on the hot plate but he or she has not felt any pain yet.
Once the brain has processed those nerve receptors as pain signals, it immediately fired the nerve receptors back to the child’s finger. Once received, the child felt the painful, burning sensation and immediately responded by pulling their finger off the stove top.
So as you can now see, the experience of feeling pain within our bodies is actually occurring due to nerve receptors firing off and travelling along a distinct pathway from:
For the remainder of this article I will refer to this sequence of events as the PAIN PATHWAY.
Now that you have a better understanding of how pain is processed and felt within our bodies, let’s revert back to our original example of a person fracturing their wrist to now explain how acute pain develops into ongoing chronic pain within the body.
As mentioned earlier, the medical profession has found that an injury such as a fractured wrist will take around 3 months to heal and return to it’s original structure. When the bone is first fractured, the nerve receptors are firing very strongly along the PAIN PATHWAY which causes the recipient to be in a large degree of pain.
This type of early stage pain is known as acute pain. You want to think of acute pain as a great friend who has your back and is looking out for you. Your friend (acute pain) is warning you that something is wrong, and you should stop doing that action or performing that movement and take measures to protect the area or areas of your body that are experiencing pain and trauma.
So here’s the typical scenario that plays out with a short term acute pain injury:
The pain gradually decreased over the 12 weeks because of:
When any of the treatment methods above are used individually or in conjunction to compliment one another, the level of acute pain will gradually begin to lessen every week or two over the three month period until the fractured wrist bone has healed and the pain has dissipated completely.
This is the basic explanation of what acute pain is. On a more complex level though, the nerve receptors are sending very strong signals along the PAIN PATHWAY in the early stages of the new injury. As time passes and other possible healing aids and measures are taken, the nerve receptors level of strength begins to lessen and lessen until the bone is healed and there is no longer any active nerve receptors firing and the PAIN PATHWAY no longer exists.
So how does acute pain turn into chronic pain?
We now know that acute pain is pain following an injury that lasts roughly three months, in which time the pain starts out very strong and gradually decreases in strength until the injury heals and the pain disappears.
Chronic pain however, is pain felt within the body for more than three months when healing should have taken place following a structural injury.
The difference between acute and chronic pain is nothing to do with the severity of an injury, the way an injury is treated, the pain tolerance of the individual or their mental capacity to deal with such an injury.
The difference between acute pain and chronic pain again comes back to the PAIN PATHWAY and also a term called BRAIN PLASTICITY which is also known as Neuroplasticity.
Have a read of the extract that I’ve included below which I took from an excellent article on brainhq.com which discusses a key substance called gray matter which makes up parts of the brain and it’s role in brain or neuroplasticity.
Gray matter can actually shrink or thicken; neural connections can be forged and refined or weakened and severed. Changes in the physical brain manifest as changes in our abilities. For example, each time we learn a new dance step, it reflects a change in our physical brains: new “wires” (neural pathways) that give instructions to our bodies on how to perform the step. Each time we forget someone’s name, it also reflects brain change— “wires”that once connected to the memory have been degraded, or even severed. As these examples show, changes in the brain can result in improved skills (a new dance step) or a weakening of skills (a forgotten name).
You can read the full article here> http://www.brainhq.com/brain-resources/brain-plasticity/what-is-brain-plasticity
For the last time we will refer back to our example of the fractured wrist to explain how the PAIN PATHWAY and BRAIN PLASTICITY creates chronic pain.
In the same way it’s not known why some cancers form in the body or how to cure them, it’s also not known why acute pain turns into chronic pain and like cancer, their is no way to treat chronic pain other than to prescribe very strong pain medication drugs that commonly have horrible short term side effects such as:
And even more damaging and harmful long term side effects in addition to the side effects above which can include:
The body’s acute pain signals and initial reaction to an injury is like your best friend or parent trying to protect you from further damage. However on going chronic pain that’s persisted after healing should have taken place is not your friend, but rather your worst enemy.
Pain that’s present roughly 3 months beyond your initial injury serves absolutely no positive purpose for your body and is in fact trying to take away your happiness, career, finances, emotional well being and sanity in the case of many chronic pain syndrome sufferers.
It doesn’t necessarily have to be this way though and as mentioned I’m going to follow up with another video delving further into my personal journey in dealing with chronic pain for 10 years since the age of 21. I’ll explain everything from the medical and treatment pathway I underwent and how I could of avoided a lot of disappointment and heartache had I known the information I’m telling you today.
I’ll explain how my condition affected me financially in that I lost close to $100’000 chasing a cure that didn’t exist and was forced to walk away fr a very profitable business I could no longer manage physically. I’ll also explain how chronic pain and its impacts on my life caused me to go through a period of strong depression.
But most importantly I’ll explain how I finally received the education around chronic pain syndrome that despite being about 5 years late has since greatly improved my quality of life.
And I’ll finish by explaining how I refused to give in to my condition, not allow it to rule my life and how I reinvented myself and my career to now be living on purpose, running my dream job and being happy despite my level of chronic pain remaining the same on a daily basis.
Today’s video was more technical and hopefully taught any chronic pain sufferers why it is that they’re in constant pain despite chasing and paying for cures that don’t exist. And my next video will hopefully be softer and more inspiring to show you that chronic pain doesn’t have to rule and command your life. I hope this helped guys and see you soon with the next video.