The Truth About Chronic Pain
Pain is very complex and it is created in the brain!
Our brain can learn pain in the same way that we learn to do other stuff or associate things with certain properties, let’s say that ice is cold. The ability of the nervous system to change, learn and adapt is called neuroplasticity. It allows us to learn stuff but also associate certain stimuli or thoughts with emotions and feelings.
Many areas in the brain that are responsible for the feeling of pain can be activated even if the nociceptors- the receptors of pain are not activated. So in the case of chronic pain, even once the nociceptors are not firing there will be loops of information created between the limbic part of the brain, that is the emotions centre and the prefrontal cortex that is the ‘reality check centre’. It is a bit like a vicious circle because the limbic part becomes the danger warning centre and feeds that information to the prefrontal cortex to the motor and sensory parts. This is the way in which the brain learns pain in the same way we learn to play piano or ride a bicycle.
These loops of information can be created anywhere within the nervous system, at all levels. From synapses to spinal cord right through to glia cells- the helper cells within the nervous system.
These changes happen even at a resting state, when we are not thinking about it.
Chronic pain can be a result of maladaptive changes to the body map- how the brain see what is going on in the body. So in the three months that pain turns from acute, the stage when the injury or trauma occurred, to when it becomes chronic, the body map that the brain perceives can change. This means that you can have back pain but there doesn’t have to be any tissue damage in there at all. The pain experienced in the back can be simply a result of the brain not knowing what is going on in the body. Yet, the pain is very real.
There have been numerous studies now that have proven that this is a way to look at chronic pain and see it more as an adaptation of a nervous system rather than a structural problem. This is where chiropractic comes in place as it helps the brain to get a better map of the body as a result of adjustments.
There has also been a lot of research done that proves that there are many factors that can stimulate the learning of pain: stress, systemic inflammation, poverty, mental health issues, expectations, diet, microbiome, attitudes and personality, social problems, thoughts, sleep, diet, learning effect- when the brain learns pain.
So there is a lot of what could be the real reason for your pain. Let’s say you have had knee pain for 6 months. It can be that your brain has learnt the pain and it may have nothing to do with your knee or any tissue damage to your knee. It can be any of the other factors above. You may experience that knee pain if you had some emotionally challenging event and your nervous system doesn’t know how to cope with it. Or it can be linked to your diet or leaky gut. It can also be linked to subluxation along the spine so your brain doesn’t have a clear picture of the body anymore and changes the way you move.
There can be a lot of different explanations. But this is why in the clinic we are looking at you as a whole. This is why sometimes we may end up suggesting that on top of getting chiropractic adjustment and soft tissue work , you go and see a therapist to help you with emotional trauma so that you can stop feeling pain. Or we suggest that you talk to a functional medicine practitioner to check for any chemical imbalances in your body that can lead to chronic inflammation and pain.
Considering chronic pain in a neuroplastic way, as a brain adaptation more than a structural thing, as studies suggest, may be the missing aspect of treating it.
Have you had chronic pain for a while and nothing seems to help? Why not get in touch with us?