Shifting Our Perspective on Chronic Pain

What exactly is the function of pain in the body?
Think of pain as a protective mechanism for our bodies; it prompts us to take care of threats to our safety and survival. When tissue is damaged, our sensory nervous system sends danger signals to alert the brain of certain or potential damage to the body. After an injury, the affected body part maintains higher levels of nerve sensitivity to promote healing.

We characterize chronic or persistent pain as pain lasting for more than three to six months. At this point, pain is being produced by hypervigilant brain activity rather than by new tissue damage. It is important to remember: The presence of pain does not always mean there is tissue damage. The brain has the capacity to change over the course of our lives, and it is entirely possible to train your brain to reverse the sensitivity of a hypervigilant nervous system.

Change your relationship with your thoughts.
The fear of pain is sometimes worse than the pain itself. Approach the activities with curiosity rather than expectation, and use more positive, supportive words. A simple adjustment is replacing “pain” with “sensation” to describe your experience.

When attempting intimidating movements to an affected area, do so thoughtfully. No one knows your body as well as you do! Apply stress at an appropriate rate and intensity to uncouple the brain’s association with that specific movement and pain. Here are pain guidelines to help you approach this: No sharp pain; no increasing pain; no long-lasting pain; no numbness, tingling, or signs of nerve irritation.

To help you practice mindful movement, here’s a great mantra to remember: “Poke the bear, don’t punch the bear.”

Promoting brain health contributes to pain management.
Taking care of the body as a whole will help relieve persistent pain. If the brain detects a threat to the body’s well-being, it will produce pain. Threats could range from physical contact with a sharp object to something as subtle as psychological stress. Worry and anxiety can definitely contribute to an increased perception of threat in the brain. We encourage the following to help soothe an overtaxed nervous system: sleep hygiene, meditation and relaxation, mindfulness-based stress reduction, and exercise.

Disclaimer: This is intended for informational and educational purposes only and in no way should be taken to be the practice of physical therapy or professional healthcare advice or services. The information should not be considered complete or exhaustive and should not be used for diagnostic or treatment purposes without first consulting with your physical therapist, physician or other healthcare provider. The owners of this accept no responsibility for the misuse of information contained herein.

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