Chronic Pain? Your Body Might Be Trying to Tell You Something

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Life for the average person in 2018 has become a balancing act that involves work, commuting (with the likelihood of getting stuck in traffic), grocery shopping and food prep, catching up with friends and family, dropping the kids to school, social obligations, an attempt at some form of physical activity, “me” time, and the list goes on.

Most of us live fast-paced lives trying to fulfill our dreams and accomplish our goals. Our own expectations for ourselves, as well as other people’s, to perform or conform lead to us taking on more than we can actually handle. Eventually, something’s got to give, and the result is a rise in stress levels. We end up living for holidays and the weekends to escape our daily overloaded routines and to catch up on the things that truly make us happy, like traveling, exploring, going on long walks, catching up on sleep and exercise, eating well, or reading. Sounds dreamy, right? So why do we continue to live a life we need to constantly escape from? The question comes down to how much we value our health, happiness, and wellbeing.

Why do we continue to live a life we need to constantly escape from?

Physiologically, living in a stressed state mimics the fight or flight response of the sympathetic nervous system, which is appropriate in short-term situations when we need a burst of energy. Chronic, persistent stress, however, means that the body cannot return to a relaxed state, which causes permanent damage. Responses like an increased release of adrenaline and cortisol, a faster heart rate, and increased blood pressure will leave you light-headed and agitated, activating shallow breathing, engaging more neck muscles, causing chronic neck tension, pain, and headaches, slowing down motility of the large intestine, and causing bloating, abdominal distention, and pain again. Over the long term, this also increases your inflammatory response, causing over-emotional expression or hypersensitivity to any external stimulus — and the vicious cycle of experiencing pain continues.

There two types of pain, if you will. Acute pain is an alert signal to figure out the root cause of pain, preventing and protecting the affected area from damage and future encounters. For instance, the sharp, acute pain from stubbing your toe is a signal from your body to get your brain to notice what has happened and to ensure it doesn’t happen again. Chronic pain, on the other hand, causes learning and adaptation in the body; psychological, biological, and social changes occur that make it more difficult for the pain to subside without clinical intervention. For instance, persistent pain in your knee might cause you to start walking differently to avoid discomfort.

One thing leads to another, and being in pain all the time creates fatigue, anxiety, and moodiness. You start to over-medicate, over-caffeinate, and turn to foods and situations that provide temporary gratification. You become sluggish, your sleep becomes dysfunctional, and you stop exercising because you fear more pain and overall unpleasant experiences.

The smallest changes can create positive experiences that will subdue pain stimuli, and that’s when we begin to see long-term progress.

As chiropractors, when working with patients to find the root cause of persistent pain, we first try to determine if it stems from an emotional or a biomechanical state – or sometimes a combination of both. Biomechanical pain is simple: we find the glitch in the system and quickly return it to order with rest, corrective movements, and preventative holistic treatments.

In the case of recurrent or chronic pain, we need to ask why and where this signal and negative response is coming from. Could it be emotional pain manifesting itself physically? Here, we encourage a patient to dig deep into how they really feel and their lifestyle choices, as well as evaluate the kind of pain they are experiencing with help and an open mind to determine the real cause. Are they overly stressed? Is this pain compensating for issues in other areas of their life? Is it caused by habits they can’t seem to shake off, some of which are easily overlooked like overtraining, overworking, and not being able to find a healthy work-life balance? Are they not giving themselves enough personal time to recover, refresh, and do things that make them happy? The trick here is breaking the cycle of what they are used to, evaluating and being made aware of how they live, and willingly trying to improve and change things that don’t serve their best interest, or what we call “bad habits”. The smallest changes can create positive experiences that will subdue pain stimuli, and that’s when we begin to see long-term progress.

Sometimes, all we need to do is slow down, take a look at our situation from another perspective, and figure out how we can tweak little things to make us live happier and healthier lives. Change does not have to be dramatic.

Dr. Tamara Ghazi is a Doctor of Chiropractic and the Medical Director of Dubai’s Diversified Integrated Sports Clinic. 

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