Chronic pain is different to acute pain
4. Acute pain is usually in response to a tissue injury or another immediate threat, and it subsides as the injury heals or as the threat retreats. It’s typically quite local or specific, short lived and helpful.
Chronic pain on the other hand is persistent beyond the time taken for tissues to heal from injury. Or in some instances it may occur entirely without illness or injury. This persisting pain is not an indication that your back or shoulder has failed to heal but rather it is due to structural and/or functional changes that make the nervous system more sensitive and more responsive to stimuli from that body part. Meaning the nervous system produces more pain and inflammation with less or sometimes even no provocation at all.
These changes largely occur throughout the spinal cord and brain, and they essentially heighten our ability to perceive and respond to any perceived threat. Because these areas process information from the entire body when they become hypersensitive and hyper-responsive they escalate signalling and perception throughout the entire body. This explains why chronic pain tends to spread from the back to the legs or the neck to the shoulders.
These changes don’t just affect our physical bodily perceptions though, they frequently jack up our perception of sounds and smells and chemicals also. This starts to tie in a range of seemingly unrelated issues like irritable bowel or chronic fatigue syndromes and even endometriosis.
So, whether you have chronic back or neck pain, knee arthritis, recurrent headaches or fibromyalgia – it is important that you understand that the problem is pain, and that to a large extent, the same mechanisms are at play in all of these conditions.
Why does it matter? Put simply – if you only ever treat the back or the neck or the knee – you’ll never get better and you may in fact go on to get worse. You need to look at the pain as its own entity and address that.