Understanding chronic pain and its alleviation requires an understanding of the anatomy of the nervous system. The nerves of the body are the carriers for the nervous system, as it sends messages to and from the brain. It is quite a complex system. The central nervous system consists of the spinal cord and the brain. The peripheral nervous system branches off the spinal cord. Both the central and peripheral nervous systems can be affected by neuropathic pain, a type of chronic pain caused by nerve malfunction.
The peripheral nervous system contains 31 pairs of nerve roots that extend from the spinal cord to the rest of the body. There are the feeling nerves/sensory nerves and moving nerves/motor nerves. The chart shows how many pairs of spinal nerves are at each level of the spine.
Peripheral nervous system
The somatic nervous system is comprised of nerves that connect to the musculoskeletal system’s:
It’s what helps generate feeling and what generates the feeling of pain.
The autonomic nervous system controls the involuntary functions of the body.
It makes sure the heart keeps pumping and the digestive system breaks down food correctly without thinking. Damage to any nerves can lead to the development of chronic pain. The nerves are responsible for sending pain messages, and if they get damaged, they can continually send a steady stream of pain messages.
Nociceptors are another important part of the nerve body. Nociceptors are receptors at the nerve endings, which are activated when something happens and triggers a pain message.
Example: Nociceptors in the finger turn on and send a pain message through the peripheral nerve to the spinal cord, on to the brain when a finger gets smashed in the car door. Before the finger was smashed, the nociceptors were not on because there was nothing to make them respond.
One possible cause of chronic pain could be malfunctioning nociceptors. Even if there is not a direct or root cause, they could be continually sending pain messages. Using the same example of the finger smashed in the car door. The finger heals after the smashing but pain signals are still being sent. The finger’s nociceptor’s nerves could be malfunctioning, which is why they are still sending pain messages. The result is chronic pain.
Chronic pain symptoms
Chronic pain is pain that does not stop for more than 6 months. Pain is a subjective experience, it is different for everyone and takes on many forms. The pain could be:
- Constant Soreness
- Constant Stiffness
Chronic pain can lead to other problems, specifically social, psychological and emotional. It can:
- Cause sleeplessness
- Drain the body’s energy
- Cause depression
- Withdraw from activities/friends/family
- Weaken the immune system because so much energy is spent dealing with the pain
These added conditions feed off each other. Example: Sleeping is impossible when the pain is active, the next day nothing gets done because of the tiredness. As a result of the inactiveness, a loss of self-esteem begins to set in causing withdrawal from family and social life.
To get the best treatment possible, take note of activities, diet, accidents, injuries, etc before the pain began. Depending on the diagnosis, chiropractic care could help. Research studies have shown that two weeks of regular adjustments/manipulation can bring significant improvement.
Physical therapy combined with stretching and strengthening exercises is part of the treatment for chronic pain. Physical therapy could consist of ice, heat, transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, ultrasound, and myofascial release. A chiropractor and other pain professionals can help bring alleviation, so you can fully live your life.
Chronic Pain Chiropractic