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  • Writer's pictureRipon Physio Co.

Chronic pain, what now?

Pain is normally caused by injury or illness, normally the pain goes after a few minutes, hours or days. Imagine catching your finger in a door, called nociceptive pain, sends a nerve impulse to the brain to tell you where it is from. Chronic pain there's a signal being sent to the brain without actual tissue damage. Examples of chronic pain can be fibromyalgia, arthritis and back pain.

Again, one is acute, which means that it lasts a few days, whereas chronic pain is 12 weeks or more and is persistent. When chronic pain happens, the nerves send messages to the brain. The brain receives these nerves to know whether it is safe or harmful. When chronic pain occurs, these messages tell the brain it is dangerous even if no damage exists.

Pain normally tells us there is tissue damage, but chronic pain happens when the tissue has healed however the pain persists.

Some factors affect your experience of pain from a biological and physiological perspective, for example:

  • physical stressors,

  • emotional stressors,

  • emotional well being,

  • sleep routine,

  • pain experience,

  • past experiences,

  • family history,

  • attention given to the pain.

There are two houses on the board with a house alarm included. The house alarm is ringing because an intruder and fire is occurring in the place. The fire brigade and police arrive, arrest the intruder, and put out the fire. The house is safe because the alarm worked correctly.

In the next house, the fire alarm system sometimes goes off when the window is left open, and the wind closes it. There is no danger, but it sounds alarms for danger. Chronic pain is when the alarms sound and you feel the pain, but there is no actual danger on or near the body. It is like a false alarm. Another analogy is: you bought a new car, and sometimes the car alarm goes off when someone brushes against the car while walking by. The car had previously been in a car crash, and since then, the alarm system has become more sensitive. Some car alarms are more sensitive than others, while others rarely go off. The car alarm alerts the owner that there is an immediate issue and the car is in danger. When the car alarm is sensitive, it goes off more frequently, and there is no danger nearby; it is a false alarm. People with chronic pain have a more sensitive nervous system. Therefore the system within the body sends false alarms even if there is no danger.

Exercise is important for managing chronic pain. Choosing an activity you enjoy doing like swimming, walking the dog, asking a friend to go for a walk with you to start, gym, strength classes, dancing classes, yoga, pilates and cycling. Chronic pain is still present without actual danger.

We can begin to change our perception of chronic pain by learning about the chronic pain and making adjustments slowly for long term benefits.

Exercise doesn't have to be the gym x5 a week, it could be zumba and walking one day, and swimming or HIIT the next. It's important to do exercise even on the bad days, it will reduce the symptoms over time and become manageable.

Physiotherapists can help manage the chronic pain, providing advice, exercises and support. Using resources such as Youtube, leaflets and the internet can help. TEDx Talks "What Chronic Pain Has Taught Me About Resilience" by Trung Ngo for the explanation that pain can be based on experience.

The TED-Ed, "The mystery of chronic pain" by Elliot Krane, Tools to Manage Chronic Pain by Mayo Clinic6. Resources for Youtube: Apps that can help monitor chronic pain are: My Pain Diary, Catch My Pain,

Pain Scale.


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