Chronic pain is a condition that occurs when the brain perceives a threat to a person’s well-being based on the many signals received from the body. This condition can and does often occur independently of any actual body tissue damage (due to injury or illness) and beyond normal tissue healing time.
Pain is an unpleasant feeling or discomfort that we usually associate with injury or soft tissue damage but can be present without this as well. Pain can be acute or chronic.
Chronic Vs. Acute Pain
Acute pain lasts for a short time (up to 12 weeks). It is a warning that tissue damage has or may occur or to help us prevent injury or disease. For instance, if we touch a hot stove, the body sends a message to the brain that there is a danger to your tissues to prevent further injury. A sore foot can be an indication to change your footwear. In some cases, the threat messages may be due to some disease progression, and your brain may read those messages as pain. This typically causes the individual to seek medical attention for what could be a serious condition. Signalling pain is the body’s way of protecting itself.
Chronic pain is any discomfort or unpleasant feeling that lasts for more than three months or beyond an ordinary healing time. Often, those who have chronic pain believe that their body has not healed, when this may not be the case. Chronic pain is likely not cautioning you of possible damage or threat. It is actually the pain centre in the brain. When pain is constant or chronic, the brain and nervous system go on “high alert,” becoming more sensitive. This is called central sensitization. For example, those with fibromyalgia have this sensitized nervous system.
How Can Physiotherapy Help?
Your Physiotherapist, after assessment, will design an individualized treatment plan that fits you best.
Physiotherapy treatments include:
Education to improve your understanding of chronic pain—how it occurs and what you can do about it. Your Physiotherapist will teach you how to manage your pain, prevent flare-ups and get you back to feeling your best.
Manual therapy consists of specific hands-on techniques, mobilizing and depressing stiff joint structures, releasing muscle spasms, breaking up scar tissue, and stretching tight musculature. Manual therapy is used to increase movement (range of motion), improve the quality of the tissues, and reduce pain.
Home exercise programs (stretches and strengthening exercises) will help you move more efficiently with less discomfort. Your therapist will design a program of specific exercises for you—movements that gradually increase according to your abilities. These exercises will help you improve the quality of movement, reducing the stress and strain on your body, thus decreasing your pain. Carefully progressing your exercise program will help train your brain to sense the problem area in your body without increasing its threat messages that cause pain.
Posture awareness and body mechanics instruction: Our posture is how we hold our body so that our joints are in a neutral and optimal position. Body mechanics are how to maintain this ideal posture by incorporating movement. This training enables you to use your body more efficiently with less pain while performing daily life activities. This is even important in resting or sleeping. The less we stress our joints, the less we are likely to have pain.
“Take care of your body, and it will take care of you!”—F4L