There Are Two Types of Pain:
Which Are You Suffering From?
Aside from inflammation, there are SO many other reasons you may be experiencing pain. However, these can be lumped into an umbrella of sorts.
More commonly, pain originates from the soft tissues. The most common soft tissue structures that generate pain are muscles. Think back to the last time you gave someone a neck or back massage. You may recall feeling a couple of “knots” in the muscles. Those lumpy things you run over when rolling your thumbs around the shoulders for example. These knots are among one of the causes under the umbrella term, tissue-based pain.
In my office, my patients always ask me, “What is that!? Is that a bone?”
If you’re at home scanning your own sift tissue or maybe someone who cares about you is helping in an area you can’t reach, one way to tell whether that lump is a bone, or a knot, is to see whether it is present on both sides of the body at the same position. If it appears on either side, in the same location, it might be part of a bone or the edge of a joint. However, if it appears on only one side, it is more likely that the lump you’ve discovered is a knot.
This knot is more officially known as a “trigger point”. Now, why exactly are they called trigger points? Who knows. But from what I know about them, when you press on one it can create a very specific and predictable pain pattern. When trigger points are activated by pressure they cause pain in regions of the body other than where they are situated. This is known as “referred pain”.
In my clinic, patients ask me all the time, “What causes trigger points? What am I doing? Is there a way to prevent them?”
For the most part, trigger points happen because life happens. It’s the same reason why you build plaque in your teeth even though you brush and floss on a regular basis. Making sure you are going to the Chiropractor to get checked every now and again is the same as going to your dentist from time to time. I always tell my patients, “Do you stretches, maintain your exercises, eat right, etc. but make sure you stop back in every now and again to get checked.”
To be a little more specific, there are certainly some complicating factors that cause trigger points to develop. Most trigger points are due in part by a pooling of toxins on your muscle tissue. Toxins develop from metabolic waste products during daily activity. However, they can also be caused by imbalances in your diet, excessive bad stress, and/or harm to the actual muscle fibers as a result of an injury and/or excessive exercise or physical activity.
If you’re under a lot of stress, as an instance, your body’s natural inclination is to change to more shallow breathing and to “suspend” portions of your upper body (clenched jaws and tense shoulders are a number of examples). This “freezing” reduces the amount of oxygen in the human body and reduces the circulation of blood in certain regions; such as your spine. Without an optimal level of oxygen from deep breathing, and without natural body motion to keep the blood flowing, toxins get “trapped” within tight muscle tissue. This can develop a trigger point, causing pain and referral patterns, if that is allowed to persist for a long time period.
Trigger points might also be caused by an imbalance in the diet. In fact many, for example, are due to a deficiency in magnesium. Without magnesium, calcium can’t be processed by the body like it should. Not only that, magnesium is the ion molecule that signals the release of a muscular contraction! Without magnesium, a muscle will fire and remain contracted until magnesium is introduced into the region.
Since proper muscle function is dependent on both of calcium and magnesium, and because they depend on each other for absorption into the body’s cells, a decent, balanced supply (along with potassium and other trace minerals) is crucial for healthy, pain-free muscles. Various studies have shown that supplementing with these nutrients can help ease trigger points.
Another way to develop a trigger point is to consume too little water. When you’re dehydrated, your blood doesn’t have enough fluid to flush out all the toxins as well as other waste that your body produces. Under normal circumstances, the blood washes these waste products away, transferring them to the liver and kidneys, where they are eliminated from the body. But if you are even slightly dehydrated, then this process becomes inefficient. When this occurs, you are a lot more likely to develop trigger points; or if you have them, they increase in pain, seriousness, and size.
A good visual I give patients in my clinic is to think about a steak. The typical steak you eat on a regular basis (if you eat meat) is actually the muscle of a cow! It is, for the most part, made of the same materials as our muscles. When you take a raw steak, think about trying to bend it, rip it, tear it, etc. It is VERY difficult to cause the fibers to tear, right?
OK, well let’s take that same exact piece of steak and dehydrate it; turn it into beef jerky. Now when you try and bend it in the slightest amount it cracks and breaks and frays causing tissue damage.
We want our tissues to be the consistency of steak, not beef jerky!
Now, we’ve spent a lot of time on trigger points, mainly because they deserve the most explanation. However, there are all kinds of pain that can be tissue-based, such as ligament or tendon pain brought on by overuse. While most tissue is very resilient, overuse can cause irritation. It’s your body’s way of telling you to slow down a little. The same action over and over is going to hurt, no matter where it occurs.
Think about your forearm for a second. If you take your finger and stroke it across your forearm 1 time it probably doesn’t feel like anything, right? Now, choose the same spot on your forearm and stroke it in the same direction over and over again for the next minute. How does it feel now? Did it get irritated? What if you would have done it for the entire day? Or the entire week? Or constantly for the past 15 years? How do you think it would feel after that? While ligaments and tendons are resilient tissue, overuse is a very obvious problem that can cause pain.
The point I’m trying to make in all of this is how similar types of pain (whether sharp, dull, burning, aching, throbbing, whatever) can be caused by entirely different reasons.
This is common, as you’ll find in another post in this blog series. You will see that if you do not understand what’s causing your pain, you can choose the therapy approach that is incorrect!
You may already have a notion which kind of pain you have. If not, you will find it out as you proceed through this blog. Make sure you subscribe below for updates. For now, just remember that you need to understand before you can reasonably expect to eliminate it what’s causing the pain.
Stay tuned for “The Three Reasons For All Low Back Pain”