Acute and chronic pain are ailments suffered by many each day. Pain can be debilitating and destructive to human lives. Therefore, an understanding where pain comes from is the first step in the healing and prevention process.
Where Does The Pain Come From?
There exists small pain nerve endings in all tissues around the body. However, certain tissues seem to be consistent causes of more chronic pain situations. For example, most people do not have primary chronic skin or muscle pain.
However, these tissues can be a source of pain, as most of us know, from sunburn or a pulled muscle. These conditions do not typically become chronic sources of pain. Many people suffer from chronic spinal pain syndromes, including neck pain, middle back pain, low back pain, and arm and leg pain scenarios. Many of the arm and leg pain situations are referred pain syndromes primarily caused by spinal dysfunctions.
There are a couple of specific spinal tissues that are the most common sources of chronic pain, as described by the current scientific literature (and by this authors clinical experience). These tissues include the intervertebral discs (the pads of the spine that separate the bones), and the joint ligaments (the joints are the structures that allow motion and function much like a knuckle of the hand).
Different Types Of Injuries
There is a basic yet important difference between skin and muscle, and discs and joint ligaments. Skin and muscle have a rich vascular supply. When skin and muscle are injured, they bleed a lot, and heal quickly typically without residual. Discs have no blood supply after age 20, and joint ligaments have a poor blood supply. This means that when these tissues are injured, they bleed poorly or don’t bleed at all, and their healing is slow and inadequate.
These discs and ligaments heal with a cheap grade of the original tissue called scar tissue, and scar tissue is weaker, stiffer, and more sensitive than the original tissue. The more scar tissue that exists, the greater the chance of having chronic pain syndromes and tissues that transmit pain with little aggravations, such as movement of the barometric pressure (bad weather).
The discs and joint ligaments of the spine are injured from two causes:
– Acute injuries such as sports, lifting something too heavy, auto accidents, and slips and falls.
– Chronic poor postures coupled with lack of spinal hygiene.
In most cases the problems with spines of most people arise from combinations of acute injuries and chronic poor posture plus lack of spinal exercise and flexibility. This damage to the spine that accumulates over time results in higher chances of chronic pain situations. Pain nerve endings in the discs and joint ligaments will now send messages to the spinal cord and brain for the perception of pain.
Treatment, either at home or with a health care provider, should focus on the reduction of scar tissue, spinal flexibility exercises and rehabilitation, and prevention of further injury and aggravation through better posture awareness and better spinal habits at work, school, home, and in sports. A combination of health care provider treatment, flexibility, and further injury prevention will conservatively handle most problems without drugs or surgery, and significantly reduce human suffering.
The news unfortunately can be worse. Incoming pain information from peripheral tissues comes into the spinal cord and goes up to the brain in a particular spinal cord pathway. However, this pathway communicates with a variety of different structures as it ascends to the brain. As spinal joint function decreases, the flexibility of each joint and the small muscles of the spine also decrease.
In the discs and joint ligaments of the spine exists another type of nerve receptor called a mechanoreceptor. In muscles, the receptor is called a muscle spindle. The mechanoreceptor functions as a motion detector. If you move a joint and stretch the tissues, you fire off these motion detectors called mechanoreceptors.
The mechanoreceptor can be considered a “good guy”, as it provides necessary information to allow for proper brain function. Bear in mind that the brain is the center that inhibits pain and promotes health. Therefore, as spinal joint flexibility decreases, and scar tissue formation increases, you decrease the amount of motion detector information to the brain.
It is well established in the current medical literature that an increase in pain traffic and a decrease in mechanoreceptor traffic can result in a host of neurological and visceral problems, resulting in a decrease in the health of that person. Therefore, pain is only a symptom of many other detrimental activities that may be happening in the nervous system.
For example, a child usually does not come to a chiropractor’s office complaining of chronic musculoskeletal aches and pains. However, it is very common to have a child present to a chiropractor’s office with complaints of ear infections, attention deficit disorder, hyperactivity, asthma, allergies, cognitive/learning disabilities, autism, and Tourette’s syndrome.
These conditions and symptoms could have a contribution from poor spinal flexibility and function. All of us have been children, and we all have observed children, and we realize their day to day activities put tremendous stresses into their spine. This can result in a loss of spinal function, which results in a loss of mechanoreceptor/muscle spindle/motion detector traffic to the brain. This is very similar to poor programming of a computer.
If the computer is programmed poorly, the computer functions poorly. The same situations exist for the human brain. If the brain does not receive appropriate amounts of motion detector/mechanoreceptor traffic, it cannot possibly function at peak performance. Chiropractic treatment is focused on improving the function and flexibility of the discs, muscles, and spinal joints, which improves motion.
Improved motion stimulates mechanoreceptors and muscle spindles, firing up areas in the brain that improve function, promote healing, and inhibit pain. At my office I also teach patients spinal specific flexibility exercises, good posture habits at work, home, school, and with sports, and good spinal hygiene when it comes to lifting and bending, and proper dietary habits which can also help all of the conditions mentioned here.
These instructions are designed to speed up the healing response, reduce treatment time, and prevent further problems while also improving overall health and longevity.
About the author:
If you or someone you know suffers from pain, and would like more information, call me at (781) 933-3332
Please share this information with your physicians, health care practitioners, family and friends.
Created by: Dr. Scott Fuller, D.C., C.C.S.T.
576 Main Street
Woburn, MA 01801