Not all pain is due to inflammation or arthritis

Inflammation is the body’s response to a disease or disorder and not a disease itself. Inflammation is a necessary part of a healthy immune system.

Anti-inflammatory medication, NSAIDs, and cortisone injections only stop the body’s response to the disease/ injury and not the disease/ injury itself.

Physiology of pain

Pain is the body’s response to actual or potential injury. Its function is to cause us to act in a way that prevents further injury and seek conditions to heal injuries already sustained.

According to Chinese Medicine, pain happens when there is a blockage in circulation. Examples of this principle are angina, which is pain from lack of blood flow to the heart, and deep vein thrombosis, which results in pain from a blood clot in the vein.

All tissues need a steady flow of nutrients, any time this flow is interrupted the body elicits a pain response because without nutrients tissues can decay and die.

Myofascial pain

One of the ways proper flow in the body can be interrupted is by chronic muscle contraction. Contracted muscles can contract on blood vessels leading to focal ischemia or blood stasis. The contracted muscle pinches off blood vessels, stopping the flow of blood, and nutrients in the blood can’t get to their designated location.

In chronically contracted muscle, chemical build up of ATP, calcium, and Ach occur at motor end plate where contractory nerve enervates the muscle. Normally these chemicals can be recycled after muscle relaxes.

The muscles are controlled by nerves which cause them to contract and relax. When they are in a state of chronic contraction, the signal of the nerve can become blocked, so that chemicals build up at the junction of the nerve and the muscle.

Build up shows spontaneous electrical activity on electromyography studies where nerves enter muscle belly. This means that the nerve continues to fire, or attempt to send signals to the muscle, resulting in more and more build up of chemicals at the neuromuscular junction. The build up of these chemicals causes pain.

Sustained contraction increases metabolic demands and reduces circulation of nutrients to muscle, after which a vasoreactive substance is released which causes a pain signal. So the muscles require more nutrients when they are in a sustained state of contraction (just like you need more calories when you do more work). But the contraction also blocks circulation to the muscle, so they don’t get the extra nutrients that they need.

Remember that pain is the body’s response to actual or potential damage. If the muscles are not getting proper nourishment that they require, the body senses potential damage, and so releases the vasoreactive substance which makes us aware of pain.

After a period of time with localized ischemia resulting in poor circulation, calcium ions and protein deposits build up in tissue, resulting in adhesions. This can result in knots. Tissue here is no longer flexible, but bound together, and these knots can put uneven pressure on our joints pulling them out of place.

The body has to initiate an inflammatory response to clear out the adhesions and restore repair and healing to the injured tissue. The inflammation is also necessary to clear the focal ischemia. This is done with chemicals such as leukotreines, histamine, and prostaglandins, which while necessary for some healing processes, also stimulate nerves to cause pain.

Because inflammation is somewhat non-specific, it can affect tissues surrounding the knots, adhesions, or blood stasis, and so anti-inflammatory medications can resolve some pain by decreasing inflammation to these healthy tissues.

The true reason for the pain is the blockage in circulation, and the inflammatory response is a necessary part of clearing up that blockage. So while anti-inflammatory medications may resolve some pain, they don’t treat the root cause of the pain, and so pain may return.

Moreover, anti-inflammatory medications inhibit the body’s natural healing process, and so injuries will take longer to heal than they would have in the absence of these medications. By preventing the body’s own healing function, they can actually prolong healing time.

Sometimes the stagnation in circulation is so severe that even cortisone injections and pain medications produce minimal (if any) pain relief.

Other muscluloskeletal causes of pain

Chronic musculoskeletal pain can result from anything that blocks circulation. Bone spurs, herniated disks, scar tissue, enlarged tendons and ligaments, joint subluxations, and tissue adhesions can all put pressure on nerves and/or blood vessels leading to a pain response similar to the above pain response.

All of these problems can result in inflammation as the body attempts to resolve the blockage in circulation.

If you resolve the blockage, the inflammation will resolve as well.

To resolve the blockage

Acupuncture and acupressure with correct location and strength of stimulation can effectively reset contracted muscles. By locating the belly of the muscle, where it is innervated by the motor endplate of the nerve that causes it to contract and relax, the endless cycle of contraction leading to further contraction can be reset.

Connective tissue acceleration and tui na medical massage can effectively ‘pump’ blood and nutrients into malnourished cells. In this way the body’s healing response (inflammation) can get to where it needs to be to dissolve scar tissue, remove calcium deposits, remodel bone spurs, and heal injured tendons, ligaments, and intervertebral disks.

These techniques promote circulation to injured tissue, unblock blockages, and treat the cause of inflammation and thus the cause of the pain.

Pain misnomer

It is the opinion of many western-minded thinkers that only acute pain has an adaptive function. They feel that chronic pain, much like a stop sign on the moon, crotch-less underwear, or a speed bump on the freeway, serves no actual purpose. Its only function is to lead to the misery of the patient perceiving the pain.

The rationale of this outlook is that in cases of acute injury, sudden pain will allow us to take appropriate steps to prevent further injury. Chronic pain on the other hand has no adaptive function. It continues despite efforts to cope with the pain or have it treated and so serves no adaptive purpose.

This leads to an assumption that there is actually nothing really wrong in cases of chronic pain, that it is merely a malfunction in our perceptions. This justifies taking medications or measures to cover up the pain rather than actually treating the cause. It also results in the unfortunate outcome of people seeing their bodies as a hostile competitor that is mutinous against them, which is a very maladaptive outlook and has many negative implications.

Chronic pain has the same purpose as acute pain. It makes us aware that there is a problem that we need to do something about. The reason it is still going on is not because it can’t be treated, but that it has not yet been treated correctly. Treating effectively will indeed have a positive effect on your health, have no doubt. Be thankful that your body is alerting you to an actual problem, do not assume it is trying to fight you.

Pain is due to blocked circulation, and inflammation is a byproduct of that blockage. Chronic pain dubiously justifies the saying “you are your own worst enemy” and can drive you mad if you don’t find the correct solution. Make an appointment at Roots of Eastern Medicine Acupuncture Clinic to treat the root cause of the pain, not just the symptoms.