Normal Pain vs Chronic Pain
Normal pain is any pain that lasts for up to 6 weeks, 12 weeks max. This usually happens after an injury, big or small, and is an indicator of tissue damage.
The damaged tissue can be a muscle, bone, ligament, cartilage or tendon. Typically minor injuries will cause damage to fewer tissues while major injuries can cause damage to a large number of tissues in various parts of your body at once.
Examples of minor injuries:
- Ankle sprains
- Bruising from sports
- Falling on your buttocks
Examples of major injuries:
- Motor-vehicle accidents
- Broken bones
- Falling down the stairs
This is considered normal pain because it's the pain your nerves create when there is DAMAGE to your body. The good news however is that your nerves help your body to heal and recover from such injuries.
The way your body works is that it takes 3 days, 3 weeks or 3 months to heal and recover from physical damage. It depends on the severity of the injury and which tissues were damaged, and also what you do for yourself to manage the injury while it heals.
Chronic pain is any pain that's been there for more than 12 weeks (over 3 months). This is actually "abnormal pain" because your nerves are still creating the sensation of pain despite your body healing up nicely after the injury.
Other times, chronic pain doesn't start from an injury to your body at all. In these cases, there was no initial damage which means there wasn't an associated healing period and hence is NOT considered as normal pain.
So if chronic pain isn't caused by damaged tissues, then why does it happen? Chronic pain happens because your nerves have become oversensitive.
Types of Chronic Pain
Your Nervous System
Why Are Nerves Important?
Nerves feel like long, thin squishy rubber bands that are found in every part of your body. The best way to understand nerves is to compare them to the internet, WIFI or bluetooth connections.
You can move your eyes while reading this website because you can control your eyes yourself. This is because there are nerves connecting to your eyes, sending and receiving signals the same way your smartphone does.
Your nerves can also control parts of your body that you can't control yourself. For example, your heartbeat increases when you're nervous because there are nerves connecting to your heart muscles telling it to work harder.
All the nerves in your body have one thing in common - they all come from your spine. Why? Because your spine is the headquarters of your nervous system, along with your brain.
Unfortunately, your nerves can become oversensitive when your body experiences stress. Oversensitive nerves cause chronic pain because it overreacts to every little thing that happens to your body.
This is why patients with chronic pain feel pain when others don't. And this is also why patients with chronic pain feel pain even though there's no tissue damage or even after they have fully healed and recovered from an injury.
Really smart scientists have shared why they think nerves become oversensitive. One of the more popular reasons is that your body is trying to protect itself from real damage or further damage.
When your nerves create chronic pain, your nervous system is warning you to avoid doing potentially harmful things. It's also there to constantly remind you to be extra careful.
Your Nerves (Blue) Sending And Receiving Signals (Red)
Impact Of Chronic Pain
Why Is Chronic Pain Bad?
Normal pain has a good reason to be there. It's like a natural brace or guard to protect you up until your body heals, then it goes away.
Chronic pain on the other hand is the culprit for suffering amongst many patients. It is associated with long-term disability, being absent from work and may lead to psychological conditions such as depression.
Chronic pain can affect your:
- Ability to perform simple, everyday tasks (toilet, hygiene)
- Sleep quality (disturbed)
- Ability to participate in sports
- Ability to attend important social activities (birthdays, weddings)
- Emotional and mental wellbeing (depression, self-esteem)
- Dependance on pain medication (opioids)
- Performance at work (job loss)
- Dependance on people around you (carer)
Dr Kelvin Chew recommends that you seek the help of a professional Chiropractor if your pain has lasted for more than 6 weeks, with greater urgency past 12 weeks. Chiropractic management for chronic pain helps to address the "bottom of the iceberg" at the level of your nerves.