Have you ever wondered how a simple injury can turn into months or even years of pain?
The answer is chronic pain neuroscience.
Sounds complicated, right? The diagram above simplifies the cycle of chronic pain which by definition is pain that lasts longer than 12 weeks.
How does chronic pain occur?
When an injury occurs, for instance straining a muscle while performing a job at work, an inflammatory process begins. This process activates a pain signal, that is transferred to the brain, where it is processed centrally. If the pain continues, due to improper healing, irritation of the injury, or ongoing inflammation, this signal is sent for longer than it should be leading to peripheral sensitization. This is when pain receptors in the area of the injury become more sensitive when stimulated (touch, certain movements, etc.) and cause more pain than normal. It is similar to a sunburn. When skin is sunburned and aggravated, things that should not be painful, like wearing a shirt or light touch, are painful due to increased skin sensitivity. When peripheral sensitization persists, usually in combination with other factors such as stress or anxiety, the central nervous system becomes very sensitive increasing the brain’s attention to the pain. Central sensitization is what causes the pain to be constant and abnormally intense which leads to avoiding certain movements and activities that normally should not be painful. Eventually, the pain can interfere with a person’s ability to complete work duties and normal daily tasks.
How can physical therapy help?
Physical therapy can help chronic pain in several ways. First, it can help prevent an injury from turning into chronic pain with proper, timely treatment to decrease swelling and inflammation and return the body to its optimal state. Physical therapy can also be helpful once pain is in the chronic stage. Desensitization to painful movements, touch, and positions is needed for someone with chronic pain to decrease pain levels and fear of pain. At CORE Rehabilitation, in addition to treatment of acute injuries, we offer multiple treatment methods including graded exposure therapy, deep breathing techniques, and manual therapies that can be used to decrease sensitivity to pain and improve function in individuals with chronic pain.
If you have pain that is lasting longer than expected, call us at CORE Rehabilitation to get started with a treatment plan that is individualized to target your chronic pain!