Tissues and PainPain is a normal human experience, but when pain persists it becomes a problem. Tissues do get injured. Surgeries are performed. Tissues go through stages of recovery and remodeling itself to the best of its ability. The best part is that these stages are associated with specific time frames and well understood. For example, a mild ankle sprain will take but a week or two to recover. A more severe ankle sprain will take a few weeks longer and so forth. It is very important to realize persistent pain is usually more likely a pain problem rather than a tissue problem. Once the tissues heal and tests show little to no major issues, focus should be placed on better understanding pain.
If the reason for a patient’s pain is tissue related, treatment should focus on making the tissues healthier, stronger and better conditioned, in essence helping the body heal itself. Before you jump to tissues being the main issue, consider the following:
- 40% of people who have a “bulging disc” on a scan experience no back pain
- 40% of people show some type of tear to the shoulder’s rotator cuff muscles on imaging tests, yet experience no pain or disability
- Every person has one leg shorter than the other
- 35% of collegiate basketball players have major issues on scans of their knee, yet experience little to no pain
The Body’s Living Alarm SystemEvery area of your body where you may experience pain has nerves in and around them. If someone kicks you in the leg or slaps your face, the nerves will let you know there’s someone very unfriendly and dangerous in your vicinity. Your body contains over 70 kilometres of nerves and more than 400 individual nerves – all connected like a network of roads. These nerves connect all body parts to the spinal cord so messages can be sent from your tissues to the brain for analysis. Your nerves monitor your body and inform you and your brain of anything going on in your body. Some nerves work like an alarm system. At any given time, all nerves have a little bit of electricity running through them. This is normal and shows you’re alive.
Waking of the Alarm SystemIf you step on a rusted nail, you’d most surely want to know about it, right? How do you (your brain) know about the nail? When there is danger, such as a nail in the foot, the nerves increase electrical activity and “wake up,” sending a lot of danger messages to your spinal cord and ultimately to your brain. They let the brain know there is danger and action is required. Once you take care of the danger, the nail in this case, your alarm will command the system to settle down and return to its normal resting level of activity – ready for the next danger.
Your Extra Sensitive Nervous SystemIn people who are experiencing a pain problem, the nerves that “wake up” to alert them to the danger in the tissues calm down very slowly and remain elevated and “buzzing.” In this state, it does not take much activity, such as sitting, bending or driving, to get the nerves to fire off danger messages to the brain. The nerves become extra sensitive. We believe this is one of the main causes why people experience persistent pain – an extra sensitive nervous system.
For long-term sufferers, this elevated extra sensitive alarm system will likely have impacted movement and activities a lot, making them think (thoughts have a huge impact on you’re wellbeing) something must be wrong, since they still hurt!
Why would your alarm (nerves) stay extra sensitive? As long as there are worries such as treatment that does not work, different explanations for pain, worries about jobs and money and more, there is little incentive for the brain to turn down the alarm system.
Treating Extra Sensitive NervesHow do we calm nerves, turn down the alarm system and treat pain? Two easy first steps can get you going:
- Knowledge: The good news is you are already getting started. Research has shown that the more you understand about pain and how pain works, the better you will do. As you read the article and gain an increased understanding of the sensitivity of nerves as part of a pain experience, what you learn actually calms your nerves by turning down the alarm system.
- Movement: Nerves love blood. Scientists have shown that when we pump blood and oxygen around nerves, they calm down. Exercise that promotes blood flow, such as aerobic exercise, like brisk walking, will help calm your nerves down over time.