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About 100 million Americans suffer from chronic pain, defined as pain that lasts longer than six months. Chronic pain can be mild or excruciating, episodic or continuous, merely inconvenient or totally incapacitating.
Chronic pain is a term and condition often misunderstood in the health care community, and among the general public. Chronic pain is defined by 2 characteristics: 1-pain lasting longer than 6 months beyond the date of original injury or illness, and 2-pain that occurs in addition to the pain of the original condition, in other words, pain that has become independent of the underlying injury or illness that started it all (Institute for Chronic Pain, 2015).
The cause of chronic pain is often complicated; more often than not, the cause is a sensitized nervous system. The major parts of the nervous system include the brain, the spinal cord, and the peripheral nerves. The nervous system is responsible for the coordination of senses including those sensations inside and outside the body, control of the body’s organs, and regulation of our thoughts and movements. With chronic pain, the nervous system can be misinterpreting non-damaging/undangerous stimulation as damaging. In other words, the pain that one is experiencing is often not a direct indication of what is occurring in the body. For example: “Brain freeze” when you eat or drink something cold too quickly, the searing pain in the front of the head indicates something dangerous is happening, when in reality it is the nervous system making a mistake, and sending out intense pain signals (Pearson, N. 2007).
Remaining active and combining methods to help desensitize the nervous system are the primary ways to treat Chronic Pain. Due to the complicated and individual nature of this condition, treatment often involves some trial and error and many adjustments in treatment as the condition evolves. Studies have shown that patients who learn to cope with Chronic Pain actively with gentle exercises (including strengthening, stretching, walking, yoga) tend to have better recovery or management than those that cope passively (Jam, Dr. B, 2010). In my practice, part of my treatment often involves helping clients establish an appropriate exercise program and more importantly, providing them with education on how to progress or modify their program to optimize their level of function. Other methods that are often used as an adjunct to an exercise program and self management strategies are the following: manual physiotherapy techniques, medical acupuncture, Intramuscular Stimulation (IMS). These methods work in conjunction with the client’s individual program to help reduce pain, improve function, and desensitize the nervous system.
Jam, Dr. B. (2010). The Pain Truth…and Nothing But! An Easy To Understand Patient Education Handbook on Pain Management. Thornhill: Advanced Physical Therapy Education Institute.
Pearson, N. (2007). Understand Pain, Live Well Again, Pain Education for People in Pain. Penticton: Life is Now.
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