What is Chronic Pain?
First, let’s define chronic pain. Simply put, chronic pain is pain that extends beyond the expected period of healing. More specifically, it’s pain that has lasted longer than three to six months. Though an acute incident often precedes chronic pain (an injury, an illness, a surgery), some suffer from chronic pain in the absence of any acute injury or event. If you are suffering with chronic pain due to an injury that you believe to not be in the wrong for, law firms like https://diamondlawbc.ca and many others take cases from chronic pain patients often.
Historically, those who suffer from chronic pain have not only had to deal with the pain itself but with hurtful stereotypes and inaccurate assumptions that accompany it. Research shows that chronic pain is not a personality problem. In other words, the discomfort suffered by those diagnosed with chronic pain conditions is not “in their mind.” If your medical practitioner implies that this is the case, seek advice elsewhere, you might be interested in checking out somewhere like Dublin Physiotherapy Clinic for help or information about chronic pain.
Important to understanding chronic pain is that research shows that a person can have tissue damage without pain and a person can have no tissue damage but still have pain. In other words, pain and tissue damage are not always related. Countless patients have come to the clinic, flustered and discouraged, reporting something similar to this: “My doctor ordered imaging of my (insert part of the body) and it showed nothing! But it still hurts really bad! I’m pretty sure he/she thinks I’m crazy!”
These patients aren’t crazy, of course. They simply haven’t received accurate information. In fact, education is considered one of the first steps in dealing with chronic pain. Along those same lines, current research shows that educating patients on how pain works can actually reduce pain.
Why does chronic pain happen?
Pain is typically triggered by messages that are sent from the body when local tissues are exposed to something potentially dangerous (i.e touched a hot plate = PAIN!). The system that detects and transmits harmful events is called “nociception.” Nociception allows the body to instantaneously communicate a message to the brain and the hand will be immediately withdrawn from the danger in order to minimize damage. This is a very useful, and a very basic, survival mechanism.
In general, in response to incoming “danger” information, the nervous system will stimulate other signal receivers and output messengers to increase the body’s capacity to deal with the threat. This process is usually self-regulating. However, sometimes the system goes haywire and the nervous system remains in a sensitized state long after the threat has passed; this is called central excitation.
A simple metaphor for this would be a fire alarm that will not turn off even though you pulled the smoking piece of bread from the toaster, threw it in the snow, and opened all the windows to air out the house. Sometimes, the body’s alarm system never shuts off. It generates a constant signal output of nerve pain. This faulty system leads to disease states that involve chronic pain (like fibromyalgia, complex regional pain syndrome, phantom pain, and migraine headaches).
How can acupuncture help with chronic pain?
Put simply, acupuncture may be a way to ‘reboot’ the nervous system and help reestablish neurological homeostasis. Acupuncture can help down-modulate sympathetic up-regulation. In everyday language, this simply means that acupuncture can help break the vicious cycle of “fight or flight” and help a person access the parasympathetic nervous system, which can be thought of the part of your nervous system that allows for “resting, digesting, and restoration.”
Some research suggests that inserting needles into the skin at peripheral sites “jumps” the neural threshold on the position nerve pathway, so that the signal can reach the brain. The nerves that are chronically firing below the threshold will eventually reestablish themselves. In other words, the central and peripheral nervous system will recalibrate and begin to work in the non-pain state rather than in the pain state. The technical term used for this is reestablishment of neurological homeostasis.
It’s also worth mentioning that well before all of this research on chronic pain and/or acupuncture came to light (and well before the advent of modern research, for that matter), acupuncture has been used successfully to treat acute and chronic pain. Contrary to popular belief, acupuncture is not just about inserting needles into specific locations to decrease pain. It is part of a complete medical system, more than 2,500 years old, with a solid history of preventing, diagnosing and treating disease.
For those of you who are interested in a more detailed look at acupuncture and how it works for pain, see here.