Pain can be considered chronic or long term when it lasts for more than 3 months and is generally defined as pain that persists beyond the normal healing time following an injury. Pain is the human body’s alarm system to alert you when something is wrong. For example, when you accidentally touch something hot, the pain will make you retract your hand very quickly. However, this warning system can also become confused or inaccurate. In the case of people with chronic pain, their body can become overly sensitive to this potential danger despite the absence of any damage or long after the damage has been healed. In this situation, pain can persist for months or years. Let us untangle some common myths that people have towards chronic pain.
Check out this video to help you understand more about pain, provided by the NSW health government. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C_3phB93rvI
“A scan will give me a diagnosis”
It is definitely frustrating when you have pain for months and you just want an answer. Although X-ray, CT or MRI scans may occasionally be helpful, they do not necessarily relate to why we are in pain. Conditions such as arthritis or disc bulges are common in the pain free population, particularly in older people. This brings us back to an earlier blog we wrote about: https://ellenbrookphysiotherapy.wordpress.com/2018/10/01/do-i-need-a-scan/. Apart from injuries, pain can be affected by a variety of factors such as lifestyle, emotions, diet, sleep and activity levels. Therefore, it is important to learn more about what pain is and what you can do about it.
“I am causing damage if it hurts”
As mentioned previously, persistent pain is when the warning system is overly sensitive. This means that common activities like walking become painful when your body perceives it to be sore, irrespective of whether there is tissue damage or not. Hence pain is not an accurate sign of damage. To overcome this increased sensitivity of pain, treatment can be done to reduce the overactive warning system by gradually introducing movements in the affected area. Your physiotherapist can help you develop a programme for you to move confidently.
“I should stay in bed and rest”
Staying in bed all day and resting is definitely not something you want to do. Studies have shown total inactivity can lead to 10-20% decrease in muscle strength per week, and complete immobilisation in 3-5 weeks can cause up to 50% decrease in muscle strength. Gradual return to movement and work is better for recovery than resting. The old saying “use it or lose it” is true.
“Bending and lifting will make my lower back pain worse”
In the case of lower back pain, the spine is robust and strong. It is designed to bend and is capable of lifting. Although the movement may be painful, it is not indicative of doing harm. The benefits of developing mobility and strength to lift is important. Many types of exercise, including weight training, can bring great benefits. See your physiotherapist for advice on what type of exercises are suitable for you to get you moving again.
“My pain and limited function mean there’s nothing I can do”
The human body is amazing and capable of many things, you just need to unlock its potential. By listening closely to what your body is telling you through understanding your pain, you can start working towards building a stronger basis of what your body can do. Recent evidence has shown people with negative beliefs about their pain report higher levels of pain intensity and disability. If you focus too much on the pain, you will become trapped in a vicious cycle of avoidance behaviour leading to more pain and disability. Sometimes you may need someone to guide you through the initial stages of getting active again. A physiotherapist can interpret pain and use exercise to break the cycle and reduce pain.