Whether you’re young and athletic … older and arthritic … or somewhere in between, physical pain is a simple fact of life. And while there are as many different types of pain as there are people, it’s how you manage it that can really make a difference in your quality of life. Find out how pain works and what steps you can take to alleviate it.
Pain is the way your body tells you that something is not right. Most often, we experience localized pain in one specific area (such as back, neck, or chest). At other times, we feel pain throughout the whole body as generalized pain (such as body aches caused by flu).
The truth is, pain is subjective and can be whatever you say it is. Being subjective, the severity of pain can vary greatly between two people — even though the pain stimulus is the same for each person.
But the real question is, how does your brain and body know that you are in pain?
How Pain Works
If you’re like most people, you become aware of pain so suddenly that you have no idea how complex the process of pain signaling really is. The truth is that pain perception (also known as nociception) requires four key steps to be carried out for the brain to understand that there is pain in the body:
- Direct contact with pain-causing stimulus. This can be anything such as chemical pain (like burns) or mechanical pain (such as being pinched or cut). The external stimulus signals to your body that either it has already been injured, or that the stimulus has the potential to injure you.
- Reception. Your nerve ending receives the stimulus.
- Transmission. Your nerve ending sends a signal to the central nervous system (spinal cord and brain).
- Pain perception. Your brain receives signals for further processing and action (or reaction).
Types of Pain
Here at Apollo Chiropractic, the two types of pain that we deal with most often are either acute (temporary pain) or chronic (persistent, usually lasting longer than six months).
Acute pain generally comes on immediately following injury, disease, or painful stimulus, but often your body can heal itself, and the pain gradually recedes and disappears once your body has recovered.
Chronic pain is often more difficult to deal with since the pain may never let up. Chronic pain is usually an indication that the body cannot heal from an injury in its current state.
When you hurt yourself, the pain you feel is sent by different nociceptors. The nociceptors send a specific signal — such as a signal to indicate that you’ve cut yourself. The pain is intense at first, and then dulls down from another nociceptor being signaled.
Pain medications prescribed by doctors block these nociceptor signals and prevent your brain from getting the message, so pain is no longer registered in your conscious mind.
For chronic pain, the most common treatment is opioids, which temporarily mask the pain. The problem with opioids, however, is that they come with a lot of unwanted side effects, such as mental fog, nausea, and constipation — not to mention the risk of addiction.
Alternatively, your doctor may prescribe over-the-counter pain blockers are the class of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID). These include aspirin, acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Motrin), naproxen sodium (Aleve). These non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are not addictive, but long-term or heavy use can cause serious health consequences, particularly with your liver, spleen, and kidneys.
Drug-free Alternatives to Pain Management
No one likes pain, so it’s understandable why you might resort to using pharmaceutical drugs to take care of it. But remember that your body goes through a lot of trauma and stress daily, so we need to listen to what our bodies are saying — especially when we’re in pain.
When considering how to best manage your particular type of pain, we encourage you to first try treatments that will allow you to improve without imposing any health risks or potential side effects.
Instead of masking the pain with medication, consider non-drug therapies for treatment of pain. There are so many highly effective alternative pain management methods to choose from that, depending on your condition, you may well decide that pain medications are completely unnecessary.
Some options include:
- Chiropractic adjustment
- Massage therapy
- Corrective exercise
- Physical fitness
- Stretching / movement / yoga
- Kinesio® Taping
- Instrument-assisted soft tissue manipulation (scraping, Graston)
- Red light therapy
Before looking for a medication to treat pain, talk with a qualified professional and see if physical medicine or alternative therapies may be a better choice. Being well informed is your best tool for managing pain.
Robert Wilder, LMT, CPT is lead massage therapist and personal trainer at Apollo Chiropractic Health and Wellness, LLC. Robert was voted Top 5 In The City of Albuquerque for Massage Therapy for 2020 as published in Albuquerque The Magazine. Please reach out to Robert at (505) 792-3311 for questions regarding your fitness goals or massage therapy needs.