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Chronic Pain: An Invisible Disability



Lightning bolts, pins and needles, aching, burning, squeezing. These are all ways people describe their chronic pain to us. According to the CDC, 1 in 5 Americans is struggling with chronic pain. Although people with chronic pain might look “normal” on the outside, they can be truly suffering.


What is chronic pain? First, let’s understand pain in general.


Pain is defined as an “unpleasant sensory and emotional experience.” Because pain is processed by multiple parts of the brain, it is always both physical and emotional, not just one or the other. Pain is our body’s warning system. Its job is to keep us safe and alive, warning us of possible harm.


Treating brain and body as if they’re disconnected is both wrong and dangerous. They are connected 100% of the time.


Psychology Today reports, “Pain teaches us to avoid dangerous situations in the future and motivates us to take action in the present. Step on a nail? Pain galvanizes you to pull it out! Break your ankle on a run? Pain motivates you to stop, get help, and heal. And once you burn your hand on that hot stove, chances are high you’ll learn never to do it again.”


There are different types of pain. 


Acute pain is short-term pain with a specific cause. You have pain receptors in your body, and when an injury occurs, these pain sensors light up and send electrical signals to your brain.


But, for pain to also be a teaching experience, it has to be located in more places than just the body part that hurts. Your brain uses the signals from the body and actually constructs the pain you feel. (This is how people can experience phantom limb pain - pain in a body part they don’t even have!) When pain is experienced, the brain lights up in the cerebral cortex (our thought center), the limbic system (the emotional response to pain), and prefrontal cortex (this regulates attention).


Typically, acute pain decreases as the injury that caused it has been treated or healed. However, because pain is your body’s warning system, sometimes it is not actually an accurate indicator of damage to the body.


Chronic pain is defined as pain that is experienced for longer than three months. 


Chronic pain can affect any part of the body and be more than just physical discomfort. This experience can be very complex and lead to other issues like difficulty sleeping, decrease in energy, and even mental health issues.


If you have chronic pain, this doesn’t necessarily mean your body is being harmed. “Just like that car alarm outside your window honking and flashing when no one's robbing it, chronic pain is a malfunctioning false-alarm system futilely attempting to protect us – even in the absence of physical danger” (Psychology Today).


The old “biomedical” model of pain suggests that pain is exclusively due to biological issues. However, our brains can have a lasting  “imprint” of an original pain pathway long after an injury has healed, leading to chronic pain. Other times, this pain imprint can be constructed without even having a medical injury. 


The most common types of chronic pain include migraines, low back pain, nerve pain, and joint pain.


Rather than being “biomedical,” this pain is “biopsychosocial.” Biopsychosocial breaks down into the three categories that combine to form the pain we experience, and these categories all need to be targeted to treat chronic pain. Biology, Psychology, and Social Functioning.


Biology includes the tissue damage, inflammation, and anatomical issues. It also includes things like genetics, hormones, and even sleep and nutrition. Tissue damage usually gets the most attention. But what happens when pain lasts after tissue damage has healed?


Psychology of pain includes the prior experiences and expectations. For example, just expecting your knee to hurt when you go down the stairs because of a prior experience can actually cause your brain to increase your knee pain while you go down the stairs. It also includes emotions, coping behaviors, and your own thoughts and beliefs, like your “pain voice.” 


Your pain voice is the bully inside of your head telling you that you’ll never get better, and you can’t do the things you want to do. Get to know this pain voice, and notice that it’s not actually you speaking.


Social Factors include your access to health care, your socioeconomic status, your culture, and your family and friends.


Don’t mistake chronic pain as untreatable pain!


  • Here is what you need to know: The good news is that understanding this biopsychosocial model of pain allows us to offer interventions that change both the brain and the body. Even just learning more about pain can actually lower your pain and help with your fear of certain movements or activities.


  • Here is what you can do next: When you visit Ascend Chiropractic, you are provided with three pillars of patient-centered, evidence-based care: chiropractic adjustments, soft tissue techniques, and rehabilitation exercises.

Chiropractic care has been shown to help fix the “glitch” in the system that drives chronic pain. Soft tissue therapies such as Active Release Techniques and acupuncture are also proven to decrease any scar tissue from prior damage, increase your body’s production of natural pain killers, and communicate with your brain to reduce pain pathways. Rehabilitation exercises are used in order to train proper stabilization of movement, encouraging a healthy muscle memory which reminds the brain movement is safe and beneficial.


Chronic pain is a burden that you do not need to carry alone.


At Ascend Chiropractic, all aspects of your chronic pain will be listened to and addressed with our three pillars of care. Reach out to see what treatments would be beneficial for your specific condition. We are here for you!


Call us today! 402-480-6680


If you are searching for a Chiropractor in Lincoln, NE, Ascend Chiropractic is here for you! 

Dr. Brian Bayer and Dr. Olivia Johnson are located in The Highlands. 


Mackey S, Kao MC. (2019). Managing twin crises in chronic pain and prescription opioids BMJ (Clinical research ed.); 364:l917.

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/pain-explained/202002/chronic-pain-has-no-known-cure-can-we-treat-it

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