Heal Chronic Pain – Part 1: Overview

by Dr. Erin Carr, October 30, 2020

Are you looking for a better understanding or solutions to heal your chronic pain?  How to heal chronic pain can be challenging. And there is a fair amount of confusion as to what actual chronic pain is. Where it stems from. And what are the best options available to reduce or completely heal it without unhealthy side effects. Thus, leaves many sufferers of chronic pain confused without a stable path to a better place. In what seems like a non-stop roller coaster of brief moments of relief mixed with ongoing re-emerging pain over and over again.

In recent years, it has been understood that opioids and other heavy prescription medications have been a band aid rather than a solution. However, new research in recent years with real-world results, along with broadening  education on the subject, is now helping resolve confusion around chronic pain treatment. Better solutions through beneficial, natural whole-body healing treatments are coming to light. In order to heal chronic pain, it requires a multifaceted treatment approach.


Integrative Healing

In this “Heal Chronic Pain” blog series, Dr. Carr Integrative Physical Therapy will provide an understanding of the main types of chronic pain from an anatomical integrative physical therapy perspective. We will explain how pain generates, repeats & communicates from different regions throughout the body. As well as, provide specific suggestions for healing these different types of chronic pain.  Part of this blogs goal, is to help chronic pain sufferers have a better understanding of why it seems like a never-ending cycle and how to free themselves from it.

As you read on, please remember it is good to keep in mind that solutions are indeed possible with dedication, understanding and proper advice.  However, it will take time, commitment and working with the right practitioners to reach a higher state of healing. A higher state of healing, that can help you take the first steps away from the pain universe to a more comfortable, happier and healthier place!

 Whole Body Physical Therapy

If you suffer from various joint pain including but not limited to low back, shoulder or knee pain. Have been in an accident resulting in headaches, whiplash or concussion. Have a bulging disc, sciatica or an autoimmune diagnosis. Knowing how to heal chronic pain is not one size fits all. Treatment needs to be patient specific and requires a whole-body approach.

Whole body Physical Therapy can address your external and internal environments. Creating a homeostasis for your nervous system, circulation, muscles, joints, hormones, digestion as well as other systems of your body. They all need to work together. Therefore, all need to be addressed as each affect your body’s ability to heal as a whole.


Fight or Flight Response

Whether you fell and sprained your ankle, have whiplash from a car accident, threw your back out from lifting a heavy object. Acute inflammation and pain naturally occur. Your body goes through a cascade of events in order to make it your highest priority. So that your body triggers its involuntary healing response needed to begin fixing an injury. Part of this healing response is known as fight or flight.


This is an extremely important, involuntary, short-term, temporary nervous system response triggered by your brain when danger is present.


During this response your body builds up a defense mechanism, creates inflammation at the site of injury and may release adrenaline or other hormones. This defense mechanism of course is helpful at the first occurrence of an injury.  You may not even feel the pain of your injury during this initial onset, as the fight or flight response acts so quickly. This allows your body to get through the trauma as safely as possible. Over time, if the acute pain, inflammation and fight or flight response repeats over and over again there can be negative side effects. Some of which include unhealthy levels of stress hormones, increased pressure and miscommunications in the nervous system, reduced cardiovascular healing capabilities, increased scar tissue and others. 

Your brain releases hormones, activates nerve receptors, and sends signals to flood the injured area with white blood cells, while increases your heart rate, blood pressure and respiration.

As mentioned above, this is supposed to be a temporary response. It helps initiate the healing process. Which takes a minimum of 6 weeks for soft tissue and 8 weeks for bone healing.  A natural progression your body needs to physiologically heal itself. Tissues continue to mature, change and heal for several months. All while gaining back mobility, strength, body awareness and decreasing pain responses.


How does Acute Pain become Chronic?

If you are under additional physical or emotional stress. Experience another unforeseen trauma. Push yourself too fast or too hard after an acute ankle sprain, disc bulge, or other injury. In hopes to speed the healing. The fight or flight response can reoccur. Re-injury is possible. As a result, prolonged healing, incomplete healing or a continued pain response may progress into an unproductive transition from an acute pain to chronic pain diagnosis.

It is important to understand that pain is not always a sign of further injury or tissue damage.

Rather, it is an alarm system bringing your attention to the situation.

Acute pain becomes chronic when the swelling, pain and healing prolong for more than 2 months. It may persist for many months or years if not treated in time, is treated inappropriately, or these other unforeseen events or stressors compound and continue to reoccur.

At this point, the body recognizes recurring or intensified pain as stress. The original fight or flight response that occurred at the onset of your original injury now occurs more frequently without an actual injury present. Your nervous system has become overstimulated.


Your body is supposed to be able to adapt to stress. However, when your brain is overstimulated, so are these pain pathways.  Releasing excessive hormones like cortisol into your system exhausting your adrenal glands and impairing your immune response through your digestive tract. All of which affect your long-term ability to heal chronic pain. Possibly resulting in a chronic over use and pain response. Thus, with chronic pain, your body may be struggling to heal itself due to repeatedly going into varying levels of a fight or flight response every time the pain occurs.


Chronic Pain and Autoimmune Factors

Your pain may evolve from what you originally experienced at the time of the original onset. Symptoms can change and may manifest in unusual ways. Did your pain jump from your left side to your right, or vice versa? Are you having numbness or tingling? Do you have additional areas of joint pain? Are you experiencing fatigue or digestive upset? Are you feeling more brain fog or anxiety? These may be signs that your chronic pain is causing an autoimmune response.

An autoimmune response is when your body starts attacking its own tissues. Rather than targeting foreign cells or tissues, your body incorrectly thinks your own tissue is now a danger. Chronic pain conditions often affect multiple areas or systems of your body that may include other joints, soft tissues, organ structures, blood vessels or nerves. Because the signals between your body and your brain cause a cascade of symptoms. In order to heal chronic pain, it is will require high levels of attention to detail, like detective work. Determining where the source of where your symptoms are coming from, what is happening and why is essential.


In Closing

Combining consistent Whole Body Physical Therapy methods with other Integrative methods including Functional Medicine, Mind Body medicine, Nutrition and Physiatry is extremely important to reduce overall inflammation in your body. Having the right team of doctors and practitioners to address the source of your pain rather than using a band-aid of prescription drugs is the solution.

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