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The Link Between Chronic Pain & Inflammation

Human back disease medical concept with a jigsaw puzzle texture and a piece missing as a broken skeleton anatomy and a symbol of the spine and joint pain caused by inflamation.

If you are struggling to get rid of chronic pain, this article will be of particular interest to you. In it, I am going to explain something that is so fundamental to what is going on inside your body, that unless you deal with it, it is unlikely that you will ever become completely pain free.

This information applies to all types of chronic pain including arthritis, fibromyalgia, sciatica and even if you just have knee pain that won’t go away. Whatever your situation, it is an absolute guarantee that it is part of your problem…

How much it is contributing to your pain, will vary from person to person, but I promise you, it will be contributing!

So what is it that I am talking about?

I am talking about the link between inflammation and pain. Or to be more accurate, chronic inflammation and chronic pain. If you suffer with chronic pain, then chronic inflammation is part of your problem!

Inflammation causes pain. It is a simple as that.

It isn’t an unfortunate side effect either; it is by design. One of inflammation’s jobs is to create pain. For example, when you twist your ankle and it swells up, the swelling is inflammation. And as you know, when you touch a swollen ankle or when you try to move it, you experience pain… 

The reason for this, is the chemical messengers (cytokines and prostaglandins) involved in the inflammatory process make your pain receptors (noci-receptors) more sensitive. The experience of pain forces you to rest the area allowing it time to heal. If you continue to walk on a sprained ankle it could make things worse. So the pain created by inflammation is a warning signal designed to protect you from further harm.

To give you a little background, inflammation is an immune system process. In the twisted ankle example, the immune system is tasked with removing damaged cells from the area so it can heal. Once the damaged cells are removed and healing is taking place, the inflammation is reduced and pain goes away. This is an acute inflammatory response.

Another example of pain caused by an acute inflammatory response is when you become ill with the flu. In response to a foreign invader, your immune system releases white blood cells along with their chemical messengers. But unlike the swollen ankle, where the response is localised, this time the cytokines and prostaglandins travel around your whole body in search of the invaders.

As the chemical messengers travel around your body, they increase the sensitivity of noci-receptors in your joints. This is why you experience painful joints when you are sick!

But once again this isn’t an unfortunate side effect. The pain is a protective mechanism. Fighting invaders is more important than going for a 10K run and it requires energy. By creating painful joints, your immune system reduces your activity level, conserving energy so it can deal with the more important issue…

I should point out that inflammation and the pain it creates, is a perfectly healthy process. In fact, it is essential for life. Without the acute effect of inflammation, you wouldn’t survive for long. The problem arises though, when the acute inflammatory process becomes chronic.

By chronic I mean that the inflammation persists for a long time. Normally inflammation comes, does it job and then goes. It is designed as a short-term response. However, when inflammation becomes chronic (through poor nutrition, stress, head trauma, digestive issues etc.), the chemokines and prostaglandins travel around your body constantly, increasing the sensitivity of noci-receptors. Which, means you are more likely to experience all types of pain.

Having chronic inflammation is like cranking up the volume dial on a stereo. But instead of music we are talking about nociceptive signals going back to your brain. With the volume up high, your brain is much more likely to listen to the pain messages. In fact, inflammation can turn the volume dial up so high, that you experience pain even when your bodily tissues are uninjured.

If you have a condition like fibromyalgia where there is no “obvious” reason for your pain, this probably makes total sense to you. For those of you that have knee pain that won’t seem to go away, it is probably harder to make the connection. Especially if you have had a scan that shows degeneration in the area.  But rest assured, it will be part of your problem.

Your body uses pain to try to get your attention and tell you something is wrong.

Unfortunately, we have all been conditioned to think about chronic pain in the wrong way. Meaning that we don’t address the real issue. Instead of dealing with inflammation, we keep going to the doctor or the physio and popping pain killers.

Countless time and money is wasted on doctors’ visits, x-rays, MRI’s, physiotherapy, chiropractic adjustment, massage therapy, personal training, Pilates and yoga. None of which can reduce pain, which has its origins in inflammation!

I am not saying that these things are useless. On the contrary, a chiropractic adjustment is sometimes the only solution. But if a few adjustments don’t resolve the pain, you are barking up the wrong tree, or at the very least missing a big piece of the puzzle.

Likewise, practicing yoga has many wonderful benefits. But the solution needs to be right for the problem. You can stay in the downward dog until you are blue in the face and it won’t get rid of chronic back pain if you have a digestive parasite.

If you have tried countless types of therapy and your pain won’t go away. Or if you keep getting different niggling injuries, it a sure-fire sign that you need to address underlying inflammation.

Which leads us to the real question. Why? Why does your brain keep trying to warn you?

From your body’s perspective, why is it so important that you deal with chronic inflammation?

The answer is that chronic inflammation kills!!!

Your body is trying to warn you that there is a disease process going on in your body! Chronic inflammation is linked to heart disease, cancer, auto immune diseases and Alzheimer’s. These terrible diseases don’t happen suddenly; they are the result of things going wrong in your body over time.

Your body is well-aware of how serious the effects of chronic inflammation are, so it will keep trying to warn you until you deal with it. You will keep experiencing pain until it is addressed. And if pain doesn’t get you to take action, your body will warn you in other not so subtle ways.

Fatigue, brain fog, depression, anxiety, sleep issues, hormonal problems unexplained weight gain and basically, any other symptom you can think of, are big clues that you have chronic inflammation.

But, just like with pain, we have been conditioned to look at each symptom as a separate problem that requires a treatment or a medication. So once again, we fail to address the real issue.

And often people put things down to aging, but that simply isn’t true. Pain and all of these other symptoms are warning signals for underlying inflammation. The more symptoms you experience, the bigger part inflammation is playing in your chronic pain.

Just in case you are reading this thinking, no, this isn’t me, my hip pain is caused by arthritis, my doctor told me so and I have a scan to prove it. I urge you read the article again. Burying your head in the sand means you aren’t addressing something extremely serious.

You can have as much IMS or massage as your medical coverage will allow, but your body will keep bringing your pain back, because these treatments do not prevent plaque build-up in your arterial walls. Nor do they prevent a toxin from damaging your brain cells.

This might sound melodramatic, but this is how your body works.  It has probably been sending you this message for quite some time.  You just need to understand what it is trying to tell you.

If you want to completely get rid of your chronic pain then, you need to address the underlying chronic inflammation.

Depending on the cause of your inflammation, this can be a relatively simple process or it can be a little more complicated.  In the next article, I will be addressing the common causes of chronic inflammation and what you can do about them.

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