Chronic niggling pain is an elusive beast that never has a simple remedy. Acute pain resulting from an injury is the easiest to heal, because we are certain that pain is the result of that area being damaged. Conversely chronic pain or ‘stiffness’ that endures longer than 3 months, is much more challenging to treat.
When pain begins as a suspicious niggle, and eventuates into a full blown chronic pain issue, there can be a variety of factors at bay contributing to the manifestation of pain. In such cases pain is unquestionably the result of poor mechanics, and an over compensation at the site of pain for another area. In other words, the ‘injury’ is a whole-body problem, resulting in a symptom, at the weakest link in the chain.
‘Setting up symptoms as ‘the problem’ ignores the bundle of habits and habitats that led to the symptom in the first place.’ Katy Bowman
This is true of all injuries and niggles that appear without direct cause, and increase in pain gradually over time. The body is telling us something isn’t working, but it can be hard to tell what exactly that is to the untrained eye. Ignoring the environment that contributed to the issue, and instead chasing the pain is a trap that we all fall into. When our shoulder hurts, we want it worked on, when the lower back is sore, we rub it, and when the foot hurts, we think it might need more supportive shoes. Treating the sore spot is like poking an angry bear, it will just make things worse!
Symptoms protect us from ourselves
Failing to pay attention will inevitably result in the progression of a more sinister pain that is harder to treat down the track. When pain persists, your body is hinting for you to self-assess and play detective. Most people will erroneously think back to something they did earlier and blame that activity. We hear it all the time “it must have been that move I did last week.”
But unless it hurt at the time, and you felt a snap, crackle, or pop, then it’s more likely the case that this area was already compromised due to a series of patterns, habits and environmental factors, which eventually led to its pain signal.
Where you think it is, it ain’t!– Ida rolf
Your body constantly remodels itself
We replace our cells, our skin, our taste buds, the lining of our gut, our hair, joints and all human tissue continuously, so that every 7 years, we have a completely new body. We remodel ourselves based on the lifestyle we live, the food we eat, and how we move. Eating premium quality food, gives us premium building blocks for healthy human tissue. How we move (or don’t!), will determine how our body remodels itself physically.
Re-modelling is the direct result of your body reacting to a mechanical force imposed on it.
In muscles this process happens quickly, and changes can be seen and felt, even on a weekly basis. Re-modelling of bones and fascia can happen both instantly in terms of creating an improvement of movement or more space and alignment, but permanent changes occur in months or years.
Our habits will determine our anatomy
Our body is constantly responding to stress of all kinds. When we spend hours of our day hunched over a desk, our body may redeposit tissue on the back of our neck to help us hang there with less energy. Repetitive postures change our shape hour by hour, day by day. A lack of adequate mechanical stress may cause the breakdown of certain areas, and the build-up of other areas, creating imbalances. You can feel this easily in your body by noticing your preferred hand to use, or noticing how easy it may be to cross one leg over the other because you do it more often.
The more you repeat a posture, the more you get stuck that way. Literally. The right dosage of mechanical stress will help us maintain a robust tissue architecture. Too much will exceed tissue capacity and we’ll get inured, too little will not fortify the tissue, and we’ll get injured.
Changing your anatomy (and it’s nothing to do with the sore spot!)
The most sustainable change will come from checking in with the habits that may be contributing to your niggles.
Nutrition: Are you eating the best food to heal your pain?
Repetitive Posture: What postures are you spending most of your time in?
Repetitive Exercise: Are you constantly training the same way and how could you add more variety?
Fascial release / massage: Go anywhere other than the site of pain!
Stress: If stress is greater than recovery and rest, you can’t heal!
Other Important Considerations
If you are in pain daily, then it’s no longer an injury, and more likely you need to have a serious intervention with your lifestyle. After pain endures for long periods of time, our brains can become wired to it, and we can actually get stuck in a negative feedback pattern of pain. The more we succumb to this, the more stressed we become, the less we move in fear of pain.
In this case we would recommend seriously increasing the amount of time you are recovering and finding ways to move your whole body at a low intensity. When our body is chronically stressed, and in chronic pain, it needs more opportunities to heal itself. Performing whole body low intensity movement is our top pick, and so is breathing. Many clients are surprised to see that much of their pain response is decreased when they take 5-20 minutes to focus on their breathing. Why does this work? Well it shifts us into the parasympathetic mode of our nervous system where we rest, digest and heal, and helps our nervous system get out of the flight/ fight mode.
Another very important consideration for chronic pain, is nutrition and potential hidden stressors in the body. Inflammatory foods will break down the supportive structures in your body and make it hard to heal, as well as launching inflammatory cascades through the rest of your body. Blood sugar issues, chronic stress, poor detoxification and digestion, and hormonal imbalances can all contribute to chronic stress, and chronic pain.
Chronic pain is a whole-body problem and we need an integrated approach to heal it. We all need a reminder sometimes to stop treating the sore part, and start looking elsewhere.