If you’re coming to see a manual therapy practitioner, you’re probably experiencing some kind of pain. But pain as a whole is a misunderstood creature. So I thought I’d talk about pain, address that old "its all in your head" chestnut, and explain what it means for the person experiencing it.
What is pain?
Pain is an incredibly complex thing, which is why researchers are still studying it. To put it simply, pain is a warning message. It is an output from the brain to the body, not the other way around.
There is one crucial thing to keep in mind when I say that pain is an output of your brain. Just because pain is sent from the brain doesn’t mean that it’s ‘all in your head’. You are not crazy, you are not making it up. Pain is a neurological response, not a psychological response.
The pain you experience is real – but the danger that the body perceives may not be, and this can be due to incorrect messaging from the neurological system.
This pain message may be sent out because of incoming messages from the local tissue, saying there is damage. But this isn’t always the case.
What pain is not (necessarily)
Because pain is from the brain, rather than the tissue, pain doesn’t have to mean that there is damage. In fact, someone can experience pain in an area of the body that is structurally sound. This is because pain can be due to a problem with the function, or physiology, rather than structure, or anatomy.
This is something that people who experience chronic pain need to keep in mind. Pain is not a reliable measurement of tissue damage. It is a sign that your nervous system is reacting to something.
In chronic pain, pain is even more complex. This is because the nervous system can become overly sensitive to pain. So while one person might feel a touch on the hand as a gentle sensation, someone with chronic pain might feel it as a crushing, stinging or burning pain.
What if there is tissue damage?
Sometimes you will have a break or a strain. In this case, pain is telling you to minimise movement to avoid further damage. Your body wants you to rest the body part so that it can heal it as quickly as possible.
But it’s also important to start back slowly once the pain has receded. Your body is still healing an injury once the pain is gone – a broken bone can take months or even years to fully heal. So make sure you follow your doctor’s (and myotherapist’s!) recommendations about getting back into activity after a significant injury.
What this means for you
At the end of the day, pain is a warning sign. But the message is that your body wants you to stop an activity that the brain thinks is dangerous.
This is why I don’t agree with the philosophy of ‘no pain, no gain'. By taking a more gentle approach to treatment, we can release the aggravated muscles and normalise your joint movement without setting off the alarm bells for your nervous system.
Is it time for you to relieve some of your pain? Book your appointment today, and we can support your body back to health.
Mel is a Myotherapist based in Ferntree Gully. She has a special interest in chronic pain conditions, like fibromyalgia, degenerative disc disease, and more.