Approximately one out five people experience chronic pain, which is defined as pain that lasts longer than 3-6 months. While acute pain is a normal nervous system response that acts as the body’s way of alerting us to possible threat or injury, chronic pain response is different in that the brain is continuing to produce a pain response even after a structural injury has likely healed. Chronic pain can range from mild to excruciating, and can be episodic or continuous in nature. Either way, living with chronic pain is difficult, inconvenient, and inhibiting to our ability to perform our functional activities.
In order for physical therapists to target treatment of chronic pain, a multi-modal approach to treatment must be understood, as we must take into consideration a sensitive central nervous system. When the healing process involves the brain and central nervous system, the recovery timeline will be very different from that of an acute or structural injury. Contributing factors that will influence a patient’s recovery will include other concurrent medical treatment, activity level, active treatment approach, emotional levels, diet and lifestyle. Patient education in the larger perspective of chronic pain will be one of the first steps in recovery.
Linked above is a great, easy to follow video about chronic pain. It helps you understand what current research has been saying about chronic pain – that it is not only a joint or muscle problem, but rather a ‘re-wiring’ of the brain’s perception of itself. In other words, “pain comes from the brain and can be re-trained”. The best way to treat chronic pain is to understand what has happens in the body and nervous system, and apply a treatment approach that is directed towards the brain in combination with an individual’s function and motor control.