Understand Pain: How Acute & Chronic Back Pain Starts

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Ouch That Hurts, Why?

Most likely you are reading this page because you are in pain somewhere in your body or know someone who is living in pain. To understand what is pain better I found a great simple video explaining the difference between acute pain and chronic pain.

You will find out how the brain and your nerves control pain levels and the different types of pain you may experience. You will see a very simple way of explaining the basic physiology of pain. By the end of the video on pain you will also understand why treating pain can be difficult as there are many issues to sort out.

Understanding Pain

Some key points from the above video “Understanding Pain: What to Do About It In Less Than 5 Minutes”:

  • Everyone feels pain
  • 100% of pain is produced by the brain
  • Acute pain is short-term & related to tissue damage like a back injury
  • Chronic pain is usually pain for over 3 months also called persistent pain
  • Brain can keep producing pain even when the injury is healed
  • Most tissues like bones, muscles, tendons, ligaments heal within three to six months
  • Source of chronic pain is more about increased sensitivity of the nervous system
  • To fix chronic pain we need to retrain the brain (a.k.a neuroplasticity)
  • Taking chronic pain medication can help but is limited in its effectiveness to solve pain
  • More active treatment is needed to retrain the brain and nerves away from pain
  • Surgery for chronic pain is not always the answer either
  • Use your mind to wind down the nervous system
  • How we live and what we eat can add to a sensitized nervous system
  • Looked at what was happening in your life around the time the chronic pain developed
  • Getting moving without fear and pain helps the brain repair best
  • Pain comes from the brain and can be retrained

Definition of Pain

The definition of pain from the International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP):

An unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage, or described in terms of such damage.

Describing in medical terminology which type of pain of pain you have can be vast. for instance is a “trapped nerve pain” a Neuralgia, Neuritis, Neuropathic pain, Central neuropathic pain, Peripheral neuropathic pain, Neuropathy, Nociceptive pain …

Don’t freak out. That is why doctors are around to help diagnose the source of pain and use pain classification to determine how you should be treated.

What Causes Pain

There are many different conditions that cause different types of pain.

I’m going to discuss pain related to back pain as I am a chiropractor and people reading this blog want to know more about pulled muscles, damaged tendons, ligament sprains, degenerative joints and trapped nerves.

Acute Pain

One way to look at acute pain is a pain that is new or recent.

So say you bent over and hurt your back this pain would be called acute low back pain because you have just hurt your lower back.

If this back pain didn’t go away within a reasonable time for the muscles, tendons & joints to heal like within 3 – 6 months then your doctor might classify you now as chronic back pain or persistent back pain. Your body hasn’t gotten rid of the pain stimulus within a time that your soft tissues should have healed naturally.

Chronic Pain

As mentioned above, chronic pain from a time view-point is pain that has lasted longer than 3 – 6 months after the initial injury.

This is the typical scenario for a cervical or lumbar disc herniation back pain patient.

How I Classify Acute Pain & Chronic Pain

I like to diagnose chronic pain not using the 3 – 6 month time frame but by the expected time to heal picture. For instance if you bent over and hurt your back you could have possibly damaged the disc in your spine. You would be diagnosed with a bulging disc or disc herniation.

Inter-vertebral discs do not heal fast at all. I would expect a serious disc herniation with radiating pain into a left limb or right limb could take at least 3 – 6 months to heal fully.

A patient with a L5-S1 disc herniation with left leg pain could still be in acute pain at 3 months time after the back pain started. The L5-S1 disc may not have had enough time to heal naturally as spinal discs do not repair fast like say, muscle tissue.

So How Do I Deal With The Back Pain?

The video about understanding pain mentioned how to treat pain. We need to adopt what is called a BioPsychoSocial pain treatment plan.

  1. Bio stands for Biology.
    In the case of back pain I’m talking about trying to get rid of the pain from a back muscle spasm, sprained ligaments & joints and possibly damaged spinal discs. Your general state of health physically.
  2. Psycho stands for Psychology
    This is seeing if your internal stress levels and state of mind are causing or exacerbating your back pain condition.
  3. Social stands for Social Environment
    Your home environment, work environment, social environments could be triggering a depression or emotional state in your mind. A good example would be if you had a boss you hated and everyday just thinking of going into work got you upset and you had to then spend a full working day in that environment that emotional stress caused by the work place environment would have a negative effect on your healing ability.

The biology part of your back pain can be treated both by you and a healthcare professional like a chiropractor, osteopath, physiotherapist, trainer, massage therapist, orthopaedic surgeon, neurosurgeon etc…

Introducing the correct movement is needed to help the biology part of back pain. Hands on treatment can do this and maybe you should start with the 23 and a half hours disease cure.

The psychology and social part could again be addressed both by you and a healthcare professional like a counsellor, life coach, psychologist, psychiatrist etc…

One way you could start today to improve your mental state and avoid chronic pain depression is to practice mindfulness training everyday. For instance mindfulness training has helped reduce the stress of army soldiers fighting in war.

There is Hope For Relief From Back Pain

I like reading stories how people turned their lives around to the positive and I read another one today about Anthony Field the Blue Wiggle from the kids show “The Wiggles“. Anthony had chronic pain when performing shows and was apparently in a bad way with his back pain and general chronic pain.

I thought if you like stories of hope that back pain can go away and that you don’t need to be on anti-inflammatories forever then this article or his book on Amazon “How I got my Wiggle Back: A Memoir of Healing, will inspire you to keep going.

The body can heal itself if you give it the right tools for the right situation. Doesn’t that make you feel good knowing that 🙂 Keep well.
You should come away with reading this article knowing those in acute pain and chronic pain have a chance for no more pain.

The nerves transmit pain signals, particularly in the brain. The nervous system can adapt and change, this is known as neuroplasticty. Neuroplasticty is a great thing.

Neuroplasticity is what lets you get better at throwing a ball with practice. Neuroplasticity is what lets stroke victims and spinal cord injury patients have a chance of recovery.

By giving new information repeatedly into the nervous system we can let nerves grow new roots and connect better with other nerves.

In the case of acute low back pain you can see how quickly a severe back pain can improve.

In the case of chronic pain back pain it can be prescribed to you how to exercise the low back discs and how a flexion intolerant lower back can be fast improved with repeated correct back pain exercises.

For some other tips on common back pain relief guides check out the Lower Back Pain Relief Tips and Trapped Nerve in Neck Tips.

Image Credit:  Some rights reserved by Conor Lawless