Chronic pain is a cycle – a vicious, powerful cycle that can take over your body and your life. In order to understand how we can break the cycle of pain, you need to understand how the cycle works.

What is Pain?

The sensation of pain has a purpose. It is your body’s way of alerting you that something is not right. It’s like your body is saying, “Hey! Pay attention!” When the pain mechanism is activated, your body is alerting you to react to the potentially damaging stimulus to minimize harm. For example, if you touch a hot stove, the receptor cells in your nerves alert your brain to the heat. Without consciously thinking about it, you will instinctively pull your hand away to protect yourself from being burned.

Some of our reactions are reflexes that just happen (like pulling your hand away from the hot stove), while other pains require us to make a conscious decision to make a change. If you’re trying to lift a heavy object and feel a pain in your back, you need to make a conscious decision listen to the pain alert and stop lifting.

In addition to these external reactions, your body also takes protective steps internally when the pain stimulus is activated. Some of these protections, however, can have unintended consequences.

Unintended Consequences

Let’s go back to the example of moving a heavy object. Have you ever had your back spasm and lock up on you? Your muscles have a built-in mechanism that can sense when they are being stretched too far or too quickly. When the muscle senses this potential harm, it will retract (or spasm) in an effort to prevent a tear or other damage. It will decrease blood supply and begin to wall off the area in order to protect it.

For most people, the spasm is temporary. After the spasm does its job of protecting you, it will go away on its own.

But for some, spasms become a recurring problem. When muscles are in a constant state of contraction, not only will you be in pain, other damage will also occur. Muscles need to both contract and relax in order to get fresh blood supply. You will create trigger points (areas of tightness that refer pain to other parts of the body), build up lactic acid, and experience soreness which will also lessen your mobility. In time, the muscles themselves will become shorter and weaker, making you even more vulnerable to future injuries.

Also, other parts of your body will begin to overcompensate for the affected area. This can lead to undue stress on joints, causing arthritis and a host of other issues.

If a tear has occurred, it will heal with scar tissue which is rigid, weak, and more vulnerable to re-injury. (Read my post: “The Ugly Truth About Scar Tissue” to learn more).

Even if an acute injury (such as a tear) hasn’t occurred, the fact that one area of your body has become less mobile will cause its own set of problems. If you’ve been reading my articles, you know that motion is the key to healthy joints. When you lose motion, the joints can’t produce synovial fluid to keep them lubricated and healthy, and osteoarthritis can set in. (Read my post: “#1 Arthritis Myth – Busted” to learn more.)

All of these lead to a never-ending cycle of pain: you stop moving because of pain, but because you’re not moving, the pain cyclepain gets worse. And when the pain gets worse, you move even less – feeding the cycle.

So, how is it that when our body is intending to protect us, it is actually doing more harm than good? The key is the duration of the protective measures. The protective steps your body takes are meant to be a short-term reaction to temporary pain. But when the pain doesn’t go away – because we’re ignoring it, we’ve tried to cover it up with pain relievers or prescription drugs, or surgical interventions have failed – that’s when protective measures create unintended consequences that can hurt us more than they help us.

Memorized Pain

There’s another contributor to this snowball effect of the chronic pain cycle, and that it’s the concept of memorized pain.

Pain sensations are rooted in the interneurons. The interneurons are a like a train-track switching station and are an extension of the gray matter of the brain, via the spinal cord. It is the job of the interneuron to process the pain sensation and deliver it to the brain.

Many people are surprised to learn that these pain centers are located about one inch off of the spine. So, even if you’re feeling pain in your toe, the processing center for the pain is actually near your spine. This may help to explain the existence of phantom pain – when an amputee complains of pain in a limb that has been surgically removed from the body.

Interneurons can become damaged. When these nerve cells are damaged, they can become hypersensitive to pain and that pain message can be sent to the brain over and over and over again on a continuous loop (like a broken record). This is what we call memorized pain. This is problematic for many reasons and can cause those repeated pain reactions which, in turn, have unintended consequences for the body.

Breaking the Cycle of Pain

High Intensity Laser TherapyBenefits of High Intensity Laser Therapy is a healing therapy that can break the cycle of chronic pain.

First, it can reset the chronic pain cycle, effectively erasing memorized nerve pain. When the infrared light from the laser gets inside the mitochondira of the cell, it will fix the damaged nerves. This will stop the continuous pain message to the brain and stop the body’s protective reactions to the pain message.

Secondly, it will make biological changes to the body to help heal the damage that’s been done. High Intensity Laser Therapy will relieve pain, soften scar tissue, reduce swelling, improve blood flow, speed tissue repair and growth and improve nerve function.

Once the laser does its work on the muscles, bones, nerves, ligaments, and joints, we can use manual therapies to correct musculoskeletal issues and restore your range of motion.

I use a two-fold approach to break the cycle of pain. First, we need to listen to the pain signal, determine what’s happening to elicit the pain message, and take corrective measures to fix the real problem (as opposed to just covering it up with medications) and restore proper function and motion to the body. At the same time, we use High Intensity Laser Therapy to heal damaged tissues at the cellular level and erase any memorized pain.

Integrated Pain Solutions has clinics in Antigo and Green Bay, Wisconsin. We offer no-cost, no-obligation consultations. To schedule an appointment call us at 844-200-PAIN (7246).

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Dr. Curt DraegerDr. Curt Draeger, DC, DACBOH, CCST is the treating doctor to Team USA’s Olympic decathletes, founder of Integrated Pain Solutions, and co-developer of the latest generation of High Intensity Therapeutic Lasers.  His unique chronic pain treatment protocol provides lasting relief and healing to anyone suffering from chronic pain by combining High Intensity Laser Therapy with other manual therapies once reserved exclusively for professional athletes.