Sooner or later, we all experience some kind of pain—most of us from the day we’re born! In many cases, pain comes and goes as we’re hurt and heal. Some types, however, are a little more troublesome to deal with. Pain associated with everyday living can nag at us, gradually reducing quality of life.
But while experiencing pain is virtually guaranteed, suffering is optional. In our office, we encounter a number of different types of pain. Here are some of the different kinds, their basic source, and what you can do about it!
The Stuck Joint – Motion is Life
Not surprisingly, one of the more common pain generators is joint fixation. In the spine, it’s effects are easily seen with limited ranges of motion, increased pain over the stuck joint, and occasionally pain distant to the site—for instance, pelvic joint fixations often result in pain that goes down the leg but does not cross the knee (this often leads people to believe they’re suffering from sciatic nerve pain). We call this type of pain “sclerotogenous” referral, from the root word “scler” meaning “hard” (referring to hard tissue such as bone).
Fixations can occur for any number of reasons; poor posture, major or minor traumas, chronic stress, or overly sedentary living. Whatever the cause, chronic fixation leads to a change in neurology. Joint receptors designed to relay position are replaced with pain receptors, giving us the sensation that the joint is damaged or that we’re in some way hurt.
Alterations in the joint result in what we call a “subluxation,” which interferes with regular function in the nervous system and leads to poor input and output. The body only functions as well as the information it sends and receives, so many areas of the body are affected.
Thankfully, this phenomenon is quite reversible. Restoring regular motion to the joint via adjustments, light exercise, stretching, mindfulness, or yoga allows pain receptors to gradually turn back to joint position receptors. Regular position removes interference and allows communication to resume in the body at its regular tone.
In short: get moving and keep moving!
Muscle Spasm – Referred Pain
Muscle spasms are no fun for anyone. We experience pain in the muscles as a result of overuse in certain areas of them (for instance the muscles that bend us at the waist, our trunk flexors) and underuse in other muscles (deep neck flexors are common; the muscles that tuck our chins). Muscle pain often exhibits as tender points in the muscles or excessively tight “spastic” muscles.
The trick to muscle pain is that the pain we experience is often not over the muscle itself. Trigger points in the shoulder often cause arm pain that disappears when the causative muscle is treated. We call this pain “myotogenous” referral, for the root word “myo” meaning muscle. Other common examples include tennis elbow, certain types of low back pain, and the infamous tension headache.
Treatment of muscle spasm takes many forms. At home, heat and epsom salts are excellent remedies for tight muscles. Stretches and light exercise also help; usually you would stretch the tight muscle and exercise the weak, opposite muscle (think biceps vs. triceps). Professionals can also be of service; massage therapy, chiropractic care, and acupuncture are all effective for relieving muscle spasms.
Just remember not to forget stress! Unmanaged stress often leads to tight muscles in the shoulders and abdomen, causing neck pain and low back pain that is resistant to treatment until the mind is put at ease.
Numb and Tingly – Pain That Radiates
When pain starts to tingle or shoot, there’s trouble brewing under the surface. Electric or burning pain implicates the nerve as the primary cause of pain and treatment becomes a little bit more complicated depending on the etiology and severity.
Low back pain that goes down the leg makes us suspicious of an intervertebral disc lesion, but can also be caused by compression of the sciatic nerve through the piriformis muscle in the glutes. Diagnosing the cause is key to determining treatment.
Sciatic nerve pain, for instance, often requires balancing the pelvis and stretching the piriformis muscle. Deep tissue massage and adjustments go together well with a home regimen of daily stretches.
Disc based problems respond well to home exercises that involve bending backwards in the same way you might if you laid on a yoga ball. Inversion tables can also be helpful and are relatively inexpensive. By the way, disc root lesions are often described as “dermatogenous” as their pattern follows the sensory dermatomes from spinal nerves.
Other kinds of compression neuropathy—like piriformis syndrome/sciatica—usually require the tissue pressing on the nerve to be freed up. Carpal tunnel syndrome, tarsal tunnel syndrome, and thoracic outlet syndrome all share similar sources. The usual cause is a mixture of overly tight muscle or fascia overlying the nerve.
Stretches are key to freeing the nerve from entrapment. Vitamin B6 is a cheap and effective supplement to pair with the healing process, aiding the nerve in its recovery as the entrapment is treated.
Nerve based pain, like other types of pain, may require professional help to resolve. Chiropractors, neurologists, acupuncturists, and massage therapists can all contribute to resolving pain and restoring function. More severe cases with loss of sensation or muscle strength may require surgical intervention, but this is only true in a small percentage of cases.
Trust Your Body
Your body constantly sends you input—listen to it! Pain may at times be minor enough to ignore, but it’s your body’s way of telling you something isn’t right. It may not always be that you’re injured, but it definitely means something is going on.
Living an active life with a healthy diet is the first step in reducing pain. You are your own first responder and ultimately the best doctor you’ll ever visit. Just remember you don’t have to go it alone!
Suffering from pain, headaches, or limitations to how you want to live your life? Give us a call at (321) 972-2008 to learn how we can help!