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Ouch, Why am I in Pain!

We are all familiar with pain. We have all experienced it at some point in our lives. Most of us have probably felt a nagging dull pain across the top of our shoulder from having spent hours working on the computer. If you have been less fortunate, you may have also experienced debilitating sharp pain in your lower back from a lifting injury that has stopped you from being able to carry out your daily activities. You are not alone. Evidence suggests that 80% of the adult population will have experienced back pain at least once in their lifetime.

Why do we feel pain?

Pain is more than just a symptom. Pain is the body’s way of stopping us from doing activities that could potentially cause more injury. When you use incorrect lifting techniques, you are placing a lot of load onto your spine while in a compromised position, the body recognises this and causes the huge muscles in your lower back to go into spasm to hold you still and to prevent you from continuing to move in a way that risks further injury. As time goes by this creates a problem because unless you are going to stay still forever you will need to get moving again.

Why do we experience different types of pain and at varying levels of intensity?

Pain can vary in both intensity and type. Pain can be sharp, dull, or burning. Pain may be constant or intermittent. The different character of pain provides us with an idea of the structure that you may have injured. For instance, a dull and ache-like pain is usually associated with muscle fatigue from overworking. A burning pain that radiates down into the limbs is usually associated with nerve irritation or damage which causes pain to travel along the length of the nerve.

Pain intensity may change over time when we fail to respond appropriately to the original injury. When we choose to ignore pain and continue carrying out activities that were causing injury or fail to seek healing, the brain dials up the pain that we experience. We often see patients who present with what started out as a negligible pain in the elbow or the shoulder that has progressed to the loss of ability to lift a cup of coffee or raise their arm overhead, due to failure to seek treatment early. Because as time goes by, the brain says: “I have asked you to stop that action with a little pain and muscle tightness, however now to protect us I need to increase the pain and muscle spasm so there is a clear message to stop, heal, and change your actions.”

So what should we be doing in order to not only reduce pain, but to also get to a point where we can live a life we desire and carry out the activities that we love?

Similar to how we experience pain when the body perceives injury to itself, we experience pain alleviation when the body perceives healing to an area of injury. By improving the range of motion available to us and working on having better postural control, we can influence and send positive information to the brain and start to dial down the pain that you experience. However, just because we do not feel pain does not mean that our body has been fixed. Read our post on the sensorimotor system to see how an injury could affect and make our sensorimotor system less effective.

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