In part 1 of this series, Your Pain Relief Plan Introduction I discussed why we feel pain and introduced the concept that the degree of pain felt could vary widely from one individual to the next due to lifestyle factors and that when long term, typically over 3 months, the brain would lock the pain in. Emotional trauma, even as far back as childhood, had been found to lock in pain for almost a lifetime.
In part 2 of this pain relief series, I will get into more detail about how pain works and discuss the implications of aging and the differences between acute and chronic conditions and the most effective ways of treating these. But first, a quick look at the brain, how it has evolved and how this relates to processing pain.
The oldest part of the brain is the reptilian brain, which deals with basic survival instincts. Next came the mammalian brain, which added the ability to feel emotion. The third part is the human brain, the Cortex, which gives us our human qualities of cognition, sensory perception and spatial reasoning and is in charge of the human decision-making process.
How Pain Works
Your nerves transmit pain signals. Inside your nerves, you have sensors for temperature, stress, movement, pressure, immunity molecules and blood flow. Similar to car sensors, any damage or fault to any of these sensors will put a light on your dashboard, to alert you of a problem. The nerve does the same thing by increasing pain.
These pain impulses travel up the spinal cord, to a part of the brain which acts like a router(called the thalamus) and as a simple analogy, this router makes phone calls to other parts of the brain.
Hence our brains decide, like a panel of judges, how much pain is appropriate for us to experience at any one time
The pain experience is complex and involves many areas of the brain:
1. Body sensation and location
2. Movement – muscles may need to brace the area
3. Focus & concentration
4. Fear response
5. Memory area recalling a previous similar experience
6. Motivation - processes pain
7. Stress response - weight, digestion, sleep, temperature
All seven areas interact to decide on the suffering experienced. This may have little to do with the degree of injury and hence makes it clear that a qualified and knowledgeable therapist is needed to properly diagnose and treat the injury.
The Consequences Of Aging
As we age, we need to put more care into our diet, supplementation, exercise, and our workload. It sounds simple, but many of us fail to even acknowledge that as we get older, we have to change the way we use our bodies. As we age, naturally occurring enzymes are fewer, inflammation is greater, and the production of inflexible scar tissue becomes much more extensive. Therefore, long-term solutions for pain relief also need to address our ongoing biochemical changes.
Sleep quality tends to deteriorate and ongoing deprivation can lead to symptoms virtually indistinguishable from widespread pain, fatigue and diffuse tenderness. Early evidence also shows that anxiety, depression and sleep disturbances have been common reactions to the COVID pandemic. Thus the problems faced by Long COVID sufferers are likely to be with us for many years to come.
What is the difference between Acute and Chronic Pain?
Chronic pain, by its nature, may not be resolvable
Chronic pain is long term pain, beyond 3 months, as the brain has hard wired the pain in by that time. Chronic pain can occur because of numerous conditions, such as emotional pain, joint wear and tear (osteoarthritis), spinal disc thinning, bulging or rupture, bone thinning
Suffering is not related to the degree of injury
(osteoporosis), unresolved tendon or ligament damage, to name but a few. Chronic pain, by its nature, may not be resolvable. It may need a lot more treatment than acute pain to bring down to acceptable levels and will benefit greatly from ongoing maintenance or wellness treatment to prevent reoccurrence.
Modern science confirms benefits of a more holistic approach
The latest neuroimaging technology, which can see the electrical activity in the brain in response to different lifestyles, has allowed the world to delve deeper into the understanding of chronic pain. It has been confirmed that pain is modulated by factors such as attention, anticipation, empathy, placebo, meditation, fear, anxiety, posture, emotion and movement. This, in turn, has confirmed the benefits of a more holistic approach to assessment and treatment.
This new insight into chronic pain helps explain why, for example, X-rays showing the degree of osteoarthritis in joints has no correlation to the pain being felt.
To summarise, we have shown how each person's brain can process pain differently, to the extent that one person may feel tremendous pain, when another, with essentially the same condition, might feel little or no pain at all.
The availability of the latest MRI scanning technology has verified that many non-physical factors can impact the way pain is handled in the brain. This in turn supports the benefits of a more holistic approach to assessment and treatment.
Acute problems are usually caused by a recent injury and are best treated promptly, whereas chronic problems are longer-term and tend to be related to the ageing process. Chronic pain in many cases cannot be resolved and lends itself to a longer-term control of symptoms, rather than treatment of root cause as with an acute injury.
In my next blog Your Pain Relief Plan Part 3 I will explain neuropathic pain and the effectiveness of both exercise and drugs and where these may be the wrong solution.
In my two previous blogs A Different Perspective On Your Physiotherapy Assessment and The Subjective Physiotherapy Assessment, I discussed the importance of getting that connection and really listening to get the patients story. Why are you here, what are your beliefs about treatment?
Now it’s time to go further, honing it down with specific questions about the problem.
Let’s use an example to help illustrate. Someone comes to me and they've had chronic pain in their foot for a very long time. I would be asking questions about the possibility of arthritis. Questions regarding the nervous system. Looking at the way that the body moves. Seeing if the pain is transmitting down from the spinal cord, because it could be a problem in the spine itself and not the foot at all. Having a look at the function of the foot, seeing if biomechanically the patient is walking in a strange way, and is that is making it worse?
How does it feel? How does the tissue feel? Is there any swelling? Are there problems with circulation? Is the sensation there? Are the nerves working properly? Is there an amplification of pain so that when I touch, the tissue is overly sensitive? What are the clues as to what's going on?
This is a very important start to this part of the assessment, which leads to the physical assessment.
To recap, the first part is establishing the connection and the story, the background, the beliefs, the values. The next part is to do with the Four Keys, to do with your immune system and your general health.
The next part is to hone it down into the particular problem today and how it's starting to manifest itself physically.
The final step is to go into the physical, which we can't do remotely by zoom. The physiotherapist has to get hands-on and assess physically, face to face.
In my next blog The Physical Assessment I will delve into the actual hands-on physical assessment. Many of you may have thought that this would be the first step in an assessment and that is the mistake that so many make, missing out on the vital steps of building connection and trust and gaining a deeper understanding of the all-important beliefs of the client. Make that mistake and you are destined to gain so much less.
In the meantime, if you are in pain right now and you feel confident we can help, then why not call now. Erica, Jean and Charlotte will be happy to help
I get asked a lot of questions about physiotherapy assessment. What do we do at my clinic? How do I assess? How do I teach assessing?
In my previous blog A Different Perspective On Your Physiotherapy Assessment, I mentioned that the first and most important thing is to have a safe, quiet environment that builds a connection and trust. If you don't feel that with your physiotherapist, you're not going to want to proceed to any kind of medicine or treatment and your outcome won't be as successful. There won't be that connection.
To recap, the most important thing for the patient is that the physiotherapist has created a sacred space, a quiet office, where the phones are switched off, the computer is not a distraction, and you eyeball each other to get that connection. And then your physiotherapist listens to your story. And how you describe what's going on with you. And then, in that moment of connection, your physiotherapist can get glimpses of the real authentic self behind the story, who you really are.
Once your physiotherapist glimpses the story of the problem, he or she can start to elicit some background which is past medical history. So we'll ask questions like the health of your family to see if there are relevant genetic links. We may also explore your beliefs and values and more about your family so we'll know how difficult it is for you to attend and for you to have the necessary treatment. We may touch on your past experiences of treatment because if you've been scared or let down previously, you're going to have very different expectations. We need to address that head-on.
And then, of course, my favourite four keys questions (see my first book ‘The Four Keys To Health’ available on Amazon), which looks into your mindset, lifestyle, fitness and what you eat. All these help us assess how well your immune system is working, and your general health, which helps refine our treatment prescription.
That, in a nutshell, is the first part of the physiotherapy assessment.
In my next blog ‘The Subjective Physiotherapy Assessment – Part 2’ I will continue on this journey of helping you understand how to really get the most out of this process.
In the meantime, if you are in pain right now and you feel confident we can help, then why not call now. Erica, Jean and Charlotte will be happy to help.