Pain. It is largely unavoidable in some fashion. Whether physical, mental, or emotional, at some point we all encounter pain. Physical pain in the body can vary from acute to chronic, sharp to dull, achy to deep. It can appear suddenly, or develop slowly over time. But the one thing we can be sure of about pain, it is an indication that something is wrong.

Physical pain is associated with injury or harm somewhere in the body. It alerts us to a problem, and motivates us to respond to distress. Acute harm may require immediate intervention, and typically we recognize these types of pains. Severe burns, organ malfunction and broken limbs necessitate urgent care, and we instinctively know to promptly attend to these more serious scenarios.

However, chronic pain persists long after the occurrence or visible signs of injury have passed. This pain extends beyond the ‘usually presumed recovery period.’ Physical signs of chronic pain can include sore muscles, achy joints and loss of mobility. Prolonged symptoms can lead to restless sleep, anxiety and even depression.

So why do we experience pain long after the precipitating event has passed? Perhaps the simplest explanation is due to the fact that pain signals may continue to fire and remain active in the nervous system for weeks, months and even years! Additionally, there are other opportunistic ‘players’ that factor into pain consideration. After an injury, adhesions can form in the area, leading to fibrosis and immobility. Adhesions are fibrous bands which bind between the tissues, and naturally occur after injury as a response to the body’s repair mechanisms. They commonly develop in the tissue after disturbance and disorganization occurs due to injury, in an attempt to stabilize the area.

The burden on chronic, untreated injuries cannot be overstated. Left unattended, tissue becomes adhesive and weak, and joints lose their mobility. Restricted joints lead to tension, postural imbalance and vulnerability. We become susceptible to additional tissue harm and injury.

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Additionally, inflammation will develop. Inflammation is a response to injury and alarm. It is a protective process which increases substances such as white blood cells and cytokines to protect us from infection and further injury. It signals our immune system to heal and repair. However, prolonged inflammation releases a buildup of chemicals, which affects blood flow and can interfere with nerve transit, resulting in further impairment.

Chronic pain can also result as an outcome of habitual strain patterns, such as the postural burden which can develop from excessive computer use, texting or prolonged periods of driving.

The imbalance that results from chronic pain is vast, and can lead to many other issues, such as nervousness, angst, and increased stress. These emotional factors can lead to systemic challenges, such as headaches, gut problems and even despair.

Pain, whatever the form, is a warning. It puts us on notice that there is harm somewhere in our body, and this should not be ignored. If you are experiencing pain of any kind, see your health care practitioner without delay. Though the body has an inherent ability to treat and repair itself, today’s medical management provides access to a multitude of healing modalities, providing comprehensive attention to our body’s needs. Treatment is available, accessible, and can restore a happy, healthy you!

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Patricia Holl, D.C., is part of the staff at Yellowstone Naturopathic Clinic. She can be reached at 406-259-5096.