Understanding chronic pain has become a hot button issue. It is estimated that about 20% of the population in developed countries experience an ongoing pain state beyond normal tissue healing time which is about 3 months. There are 116 million Americans who have chronic pain and management costs 635 billion per year. Studies have stated that genetics can play a role in chronic pain however this cannot always be the answer. Here are three types of processes that help us view the pain mechanism model, which is a clinical breakdown of a person's pain experience.
The first is the input-related process. First there is an injury to the tissue. You injure your back. The injury sends a message to the brain which may or not be a pain message. The environment plays a role in how you react to the injury; it can make the experience better or worse. Stress tends to be predictive of persistent pain. Expectations can modulate pain as well. Then there is the nervous system called the peripheral system which takes the message from the site of the injury to the brain.
The second process is processing. The message goes from site of injury to the brain and then has to be processed by the brain. Your background influences what your brain does with this information. Experience, beliefs, knowledge, culture, media, society can all effect how the brain reacts to the original injury. For example, if you have had a back injury before you may have a fear that something worse has happened, or you may know what to do and feel in control of your back pain; for instance, start your exercises again, go to the doctor, etc.
The third process is output. Once the brain has processed the injury the message then reaches bodily systems in a protecting mode. If the message says pain, this causes your immune system to kick in cortisol, your breathing increases, your heartrate increases, etc.
Have you ever raked leaves, then washed your hands and looked down to see that you cut yourself but didn't even notice it? This is a normal response to what would be a painful stimulus. Your brain was distracted and your brain decided the cut was not a threat. In people who have chronic pain the brain does not react appropriately. The brain already is having pain and any little thing can increase pain levels even more.
So what does a person do for chronic pain? One of the leading treatments for chronic pain has been medications. However society and the medical field are finding that this is not always the best answer. Not everyone reacts well to medication. Another treatment that is in the forefront of chronic pain can by physical therapy. One of the pieces of the puzzle can be learning to move safely and effectively in your environment. Many people with chronic pain stop moving because it hurts. Well research is now stating that these people need aerobic activity, education, meditation, relaxation, knowledge, manual therapy, and goal setting. Chronic pain is not an easy diagnosis and it's not an easy treatment. To sum it up, once the brain understands pain and how to react to pain, this can help the patient move forward in life and embrace mobility without increased pain.