by Tracey Roizman, DC
The experience of pain is alarming, stressful and usually signals some sort of health crisis. Pain that persists beyond six months is known as chronic pain. Often there are reasons why pain persists, such as degeneration at the joints, but oftentimes the scenario of chronic pain is such that the original injury may have occurred years before, damaged tissues have long since healed but symptoms continue. Several progressively stronger courses of therapy may have been used including surgery, steroids and drug injections into the spine, all with limited or no results. Chronic pain effects 15-33% of the population and is estimated to cost $70 billion per year, making it more costly than cancer and heart disease combined.
The Benefits of Chiropractic Care
In the realm of pain therapies chiropractic care offers a particularly effective approach for pain relief in all phases of healing, including chronic conditions of longstanding duration. Chiropractic has historically utilized all available means to promote healing in ways that agree with the body’s inherent healing mechanisms. Spinal adjustments in conjunction with nutritional therapies, physical therapy modalities and targeted exercises to strengthen and stretch weakened or damaged tissues are some of the aspects of a wholistically oriented chiropractic program. Additionally a variety of gentle specialized techniques are available as part of the chiropractic method. These techniques are designed to evaluate and treat injuries in unique ways that are derived from experience in approaching health from a wholistic perspective and are aimed at promoting the body’s inherent healing mechanisms.
There are a number of factors responsible for perpetuating pain. Each one needs to be addressed in order for pain to be eliminated or managed satisfactorily. The solution for chronic pain seems to be that no single solution exists and that a multimodal approach is most effective in most cases.
Overactive Nervous System
Occasionally chronic pain can result from a self perpetuating feedback cycle whereby oversensitization and overactivation of pain pathways sets in, creating a pattern that is difficult to break. To prevent this from happening, attention to injuries at their early stages is key. In the initial 1-2 weeks following an injury it is imperative to give appropriate rest to damaged tissues while doing as much as possible to reduce and control inflammation and thereby break the cycle before it gets established.
In spite of proper care during the initial phase of recovering from an injury if pain persists into the next phase, known as the rehabilitative phase, then other factors must be considered. Mechanical stress and nutritional inadequacies are at the top of this list. Structures that were severely injured may not heal back to their pre injury status. Fractured or degenerated vertebrae develop shapes and positions that reflect their history. The muscles and ligaments around these bones must accommodate their altered states. Stress tension and pain result. Reinjury can occur when we try to go about our daily activities before injuries are fully healed. Bones tendons and ligaments take a considerable time to heal and it is often inconvenient and impractical to alter one’s activities sufficiently to allow full healing. The spine, arms and legs are unstable in the vulnerable early stages of rehabilitation. Even normal tasks such as sitting at a desk or driving can be treacherous. Careful monitoring at these stages helps to keep structures aligned and stress free.
Nutritional deficiencies are an important and too often overlooked component of chronic pain. Healing is slowed when the body lacks the essential elements that form the building blocks for regeneration of cells and tissues. Simply put, you can’t expect good quality products from substandard building materials. Nutritional requirements increase when healing is happening so it stands to reason that strategically supplementing those substances that will become depleted is a good idea. Studies have shown that chronic pain sufferers have substantially higher rates of vitamin and mineral deficiencies than the general population. This raises the usually unanswerable question of whether these deficiencies were present before pain became chronic, thereby acting as a contributing cause of the chronic condition or if the increased demands of the body during healing led to the depletion. In either case, regaining nutrient status is imperative in order for healing to proceed.
Sleep disturbance is also part of the chronic pain picture. Sleep is when our bodies do the majority of their internal housekeeping; replacing old worn out cells with new healthy ones and eliminating toxins. Loss of sleep slows healing time and increases symptoms considerably. Restoring healthy sleep patterns becomes a high priority for people with chronic pain. Accomplishing this without resorting to strong medications and their associated risks, or decreasing reliance on medications already in use requires a carefully coordinated program of gradually strengthening the body toward self reliance. A wholistic chiropractic treatment approach accomplishes this goal by addressing all aspects of the healing process.
Finally, there is the mental and emotional stress that goes along with chronic pain. A host of emotional anxieties ranging from social pressure that says we should carry on in spite of pain to fear of being discredited to fear and denial of being given a frightening diagnosis are all present to varying degrees in chronic pain situations. These anxious thoughts prevent us from taking action while at the same time creating more physical tension, adding insult to injury. It is important to acknowledge these stresses and take steps to resolve them.
If you suffer from chronic pain or are close to someone who does it is important explore all avenues of help. It is particularly beneficial to have a team of experts that you consult with concurrently from a variety of fields. In this way you will be ensured of the best possible and most comprehensive treatment for all aspects of your particular condition.