It’s Not All About Pain, People!

Pardon my rant for moment and please consider what I am about to say. Pain is a symptom or an indicator. Pain is annoying. Pain can be frustrating. Pain can even be debilitating. Treating for pain, however, is a terrible way help someone get out of pain.

The origins of pain are not well understood and can be a very deep topic. That saying, from my study, most of our pain is distributed through the limbic center of the brain. The limbic system is really the emotional center of the brain. So, to me, pain is an emotional response. Ever notice that some people have a high pain threshold and others have little to none? Likewise, some cultures are very stoic about pain while others are extremely passionate. The very same stimulus can be applied but the reaction is completely different.

Don’t get me wrong. Pain is very real. I am not suggesting we write off anyone in pain with the idea that it is all in their head. What I am suggesting is that we keep pain in perspective. Bad pain does not always mean horrible damage. Likewise, some of the most serious damage to the human body can display very little pain. Furthermore, pain can be a good thing when it gives a warning that something can be harmful. Have you ever stepped on hot sand and immediately pulled away so you didn’t burn your feet? What if you were a diabetic with poor blood circulation and therefor poor feeling in your feet. Would you say that it was a good thing to burn your feet because you couldn’t feel it? Of course not!

Rather than focus on the pain of an injury, I like to focus on the rehabilitation or function. If we only treated for pain, very few people would ever recover. Rehabilitating an injury whether chronic or acute can be painful. Let me say that again, TREATMENT CAN BE PAINFUL!  Sometimes we have to break down a lot of scar tissue. This will be painful. When you are dealing with functional and physical medicine, like chiropractic, the end result is to get you functional which will eventually lead to less pain. By the way, this takes time.

Please don’t kid yourself that you can rehabilitate an injury without pain or discomfort. It is just not how the body works. Would you expect to work with a personal trainer to get in shape and never feel soreness or fatigue? Instead, focus on improving function and accept pain for what it is. In the words of the Dred Pirate Roberts aka Westley from The Princess Bride, -“Life is pain, your highness. Anyone who tells you differently is selling something.”

“It’s Never Just a Muscle!”

Back Pain

I hear it just about everyday. I don’t know how or why people think it. There is no known conspiracy about it. It may be because it is the only explanation people can think of. It drives me crazy and takes all of my energy to control my emotions when I hear, “I think it’s just a muscle.”

Let me explain why it is never just a muscle when you are talking about back and neck pain. The muscles in the back and neck are slow twitch muscle fibers. They are designed for endurance. They are not fast twitch, speed muscles. In addition, there are three layers of muscles with a ton of overlap amongst the muscles of each layer. For this reason, it is nearly impossible to tear or “pull” one of these muscle without doing damage to a much more susceptible structure first. 

The most common tissue to receive damage in the spine is the disc which can bulge, herniate, mishape, and swell when over worked or over loaded. Then there are the joints and ligaments of the spine which will sprain long before a postural muscle reaches tearing status. Finally, you have the nerve roots which if irritated even slightly will cause a muscle spasm which essentially protects the muscle. Herein lies the issue. 

When a muscle spasms it can be a lot more painful and noticeable than the underlying cause. Don’t be fooled. Muscles don’t just decide to spasm on their own. It is a protective measure. 

There can be occasions where a muscle due to overuse, usually because of postural strains, will form a knot (the technical term being a trigger point). When this happens it is commonly like asking, “which came first the chicken or the egg.” If there is a trigger point it will immediately affect the joints, discs, and nerves. There will also be a good argument that the trigger point only developed because of a lack of motion or subluxation of the joints. Either way, it is never just a muscle. 

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