Do you experience bothersome and sometimes overwhelming pain or stiffness but have no idea where it has come from?
Pain can often strike seemingly from nowhere at exactly the wrong time in life; after a stressful week at work, halfway through cleaning the yard, when you’re getting into your new gym routine or after a late night caring for sick children. Sound familiar? This blog will explore why this can happen and provide some food for thought on how to reduce the intensity of those draining episodes of pain.
Aside from obvious injuries, pain can often begin as more mild symptoms like stiffness, tightness and aching. In these situations mild symptoms are due to a provocative action. The trouble is that these provocative actions can be very trivial and hard to identify. It could be something as simple as too much time in one posture/position or a seasonal/uncommon activity like sanding a deck or moving house. If these signals are ignored and the provocative action is continued, your body and brain can react to protect you by increasing stiffness, pain and sensitivity with movement. These situations are rarely serious, and can even occur without any damage (sprains/strains) to the joints or muscles.
“Well if there isn’t any serious damage, why does it hurt so much??”
Clinically, I have found that there are certain times where we might be more likely to experience pain due to what are called contributing factors. Pain is often influenced by an accumulation of contributing factors that have built up over time. Contributing factors influence how fast and intense your body’s protective response to pain happens as well as how long those symptoms linger. Addressing these factors, where possible, really helps to enhance your recovery. Some more common contributing factors to pain include:
Poor sleep quality, poor nutrition, mental distress, alcohol and tobacco use, health problems (diabetes, etc), physical demands of work/home/sport, lack of vigorous exercise, too much exercise, too much sedentary time, too much screen time, hormone fluctuations, the list goes on.
Previous history of pain in the same area can also increase pain sensitivity. Let me use an analogy to explain why we sometimes become more sensitive after an injury:
Imagine you have been living in the same safe, friendly neighbourhood for 5 years. The neighbour has a cat that somehow manages to set your car alarm off every now and then… it has happened again. No big deal, you know it was probably the cat so you calmly go out and unlock the car. One day, you move to a new neighbourhood. It’s your first night in the new house your car alarm goes off. You think to yourself, ‘It’s happened before; the new neighbour probably has a cat too’. Only this time when you get to your car you find your window smashed and your ACDC CD set has been stolen! If your car alarm was to go off again, would you still react calmly and composed? Or would you panic, grab your 3 iron and call the police?
In this situation, finding your window smashed could be how your body interprets an injury or pain for the first time. After that, each time your car alarm goes off your reaction will be bigger! Regardless of whether or not you know what has happened to the car.
“I am in pain now, should I focus on these contributing factors first or getting on top of my pain?”
Porque no los dos? Why not both? So the first priority should always be getting relief. That is where we can and would love to help. Hands on and supportive therapy techniques like manipulation, massage, supportive taping, cupping and dry needling are fantastic at easing the pain, reducing stiffness and improving movement. Hands off techniques like comfortable movement/exercise, building strength and practicing movement patterns can also be very helpful at managing pain. Additionally, addressing those contributing factors can speed up recovery and can help reduce similar episodes from repeating.
“That’s all well and good, but I’m not a nutritionist / psychologist / somnologist / doctor / exercise physiologist and don’t know the first thing about managing those contributing factors.”
If any of the above contributing factors resonate with you then the battle is half won! There are so many great online resources about balancing your diet, getting a better sleep and tips on managing exercise or stress. These can also be confusing so if you don’t know where to start, chat with a health professional.
In the meanwhile, keep using the pain management tools you can count on. If you are frustrated with ongoing pain and are ready for a change, please call and book. We would love to support you.
Written by Patrick Brewer
Chiropractor at Thrive Health Co