Humans have a unique relationship with pain. We experience pain in various ways after our physical injuries, accidents, surgeries, traumas and conditions. And we incorporate our brain’s interpretation and perception of the physical injury and emotional components that combine to create our experience of pain.
As a physical therapist practicing in out-patient clinics over the past 32+ years, I have been privileged to help thousands of patients recover from a large variety of injuries and ailments. Each patient’s experience with pain is unique, with some patients being able to recover from severe trauma or injury with unexpected ease, and other patients with seemingly minor injuries being debilitated by pain.
What Can We Learn from Pain Research?
Research gives us a better understanding of why there is such variation in our response to pain. The following is a brief overview of some of the key concepts.
This will lead to our discussion here of what we can do to control pain – with the goal to empower you to better understand, control and break the cycle of your pain responses in order to optimize your function and your well-being.
We have nerve endings (receptors) in our body – our skin, our joints, connective tissues and in our organs. Internal and external stimulation of these nerve endings send signals to larger groups of nerves (ganglia) and to our central nervous system via our spinal cord and to our brain.
This stimulates the Amygdala – a primitive area deep in our brain that activates the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS), which in turn, initiates a “fight or flight” response in our brain and in our body. Activation of the ANS an cause acute spasms and other physiological changes anywhere in the body. In addition, there are “local” reflexes surrounding the area of trauma or injury that activate muscular, vascular and nervous system responses.
At the same time, the Anterior Cingulate Cortex (ACC) – an area responsible for emotional factors – is stimulated, and it turns off the Dorsolateral Prefrontal Cortex (DLPFC), an area of the brain that helps to modulate or decrease our perception of pain.
These are powerful and automatic responses – reflexes that have been necessary for our survival as individuals and as a species. However, these nervous system responses in the mind and body can become sensitized. In other words, the pathways and reflexes can become easily activated if the cycle repeats itself. This includes our feelings of fear, worry, anticipation of pain and associating the pain with a larger health issue. And the response can be to a larger or smaller degree in comparison to the actual tissue damage or injury. We develop reflexive habit patterns associated with pain.
We feel pain locally (at the point of injury/ trauma), and also almost anywhere in the body. This includes tingling, numbness, burning, IBS & bladder symptoms, palpitations, rapid heart rate, headaches, migraines and compensatory movement patterns that further reinforce the cycle of pain.
How Move For Health Can Help You – A Physical Therapist’s Perspective
As a physical therapist and with my lens as a human movement specialist, it’s important to understand each person’s unique history – your experience with your injury, ailment or condition – as well as your physical and emotional responses. While listening to understand your story, evaluating their physical movement, teaching you how to break the cycle of nervous system, muscular and reflexive responses, and guiding you to be aware of and to understand their body – while learning to move well without pain. And above all providing evidence-based education to empower you to achieve realistic and hopeful expectations for functional recovery.
I’m looking forward to teaching you in our Move For Health group classes as we incorporate mindfulness and body awareness, using practical tools and strategies to break the cycle of pain and dysfunctional movement patterns. With support for each of you to achieve optimal posture, movement, balance & wellness. Here’s to learning new habits for moving well – in class and in life – without pain!
My best to you,