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Osteopathy for chronic pain

Updated: Dec 12, 2022

Do you suffer with chronic pain (aka persistent pain)?

Our NHS describes persistent pain as pain that has gone on for longer than 3 months (12 weeks) despite medication or treatment. Just the thought of this is not a pleasant one and can be frightening to even consider. We’d like to reassure you that there is light at the end of the tunnel. Persistent pain is complicated, and you can find yourself feeling quite helpless, but we know more about chronic pain than we ever have before, research is constantly expanding, and more and more people are becoming free of pain every day.

When we think of chronic pain, we think of pain that is always there, constantly. But oftentimes chronic pain waxes and wanes, you may hear words like “flare up” or “good and bad days”. Conditions that look like this include things like fibromyalgia, migraines, irritable bowel syndrome and arthritis.

So, let’s dive in and have a look at what we can do to relieve your chronic pain.

What could be causing my chronic pain?

Chronic pain is complicated, but that doesn’t mean we can’t help. We have a multidisciplinary team here and we love working together to solve more challenging problems.

Things we understand about chronic pain:

  • Pain is NOT always indicative of tissue damage. This one is a little strange to get your head around. Speaking of your head, it’s very important to understand that just because there might not be any damage or much damage, your pain is not “all in your head”. We don’t need to tell you that the pain you are experiencing is very real. However, it’s important and often very reassuring to understand that even though you have pain, you may well not have any or anywhere near as much damage as it feels like! Arthritis is a great example of this: some people have lots of pain from a tiny little bit of arthritis, and some people have no pain even though they have lots of arthritis.

  • This is because pain is actually your brain’s opinion on how safe your body is. Your brain takes a lot of different things into consideration before it decides to make a part of you hurt. This includes past experience, your emotional wellbeing, tissue damage (not always!), the environment and more! Just like when we form an opinion on a complicated issue, we take a lot of things into consideration. Crucially opinions can also be changed.

  • Pain is the body’s alarm system: So, if pain is not always indicative of damage, what does it mean? First of all, pain can be indicative of damage (a contradiction I know but stick with me!). Pain exists to tell you if there is a threat to your safety (sensible!). For example, if a poisonous snake bit your ankle and your brain didn’t tell your ankle to hurt, you’d end up in a lot more trouble than if it made your ankle hurt like mad. If your ankle hurt, you’d notice the snake, make a run for it and call an ambulance. If you didn’t notice you could end up very unwell or even dead. This is a good example of acute pain, when you experience persistent or chronic pain this alarm systems gets disrupted in a way that is not helpful for you.

  • Under normal circumstances the body should respond in a healthy way to pain: something damages something, signals from the tissues go up to the brain and say, “hey I just got bitten by a snake” and your brain goes “oh no! That is BAD. Let’s make that part of the body hurt so that we then take action to protect ourselves”. Once the threat is over and the tissues are repaired, it shouldn’t hurt anymore.

  • In chronic pain, these signals go a bit wrong: For various reasons, your brain gets over excited and decides to make parts of your body hurt excessively and often without reason.

  • Pain is contextual: Pain is affected by previous experience. We know that you are more likely to suffer with chronic pain if you have been through a period of high stress.

  • To tackle chronic pain, we need to work with your body AND your brain. The brain is the key!

How can osteopathy help my chronic pain?

To tackle chronic pain, we need to calm down the brain’s responses. We can do this through osteopathic treatment in several ways:

  • Osteopathy makes use of something called the Pain Gate Theory. This means that painful nerve transmissions can be modulated at the spinal cord by non-painful inputs as well as signals from the brain. Stimuli such as light touch and pressure transmit signals along faster nerve fibres than those triggered by pain. When a transmission from the faster, non-painful stimulation reaches the ‘gate’ in the spinal cord, it essentially shuts it before the slower, painful signals can reach it, reducing the amount of pain felt by the person. Osteopaths might use soft tissue techniques or dry needling (Western acupuncture) as a means of utilising the Pain Gate Theory.

  • The ‘gate’ is also controlled by your brain so if you are mentally not in a good place (stress, anxiety, etc.) then this will cause the ‘gate’ to open, making you sense more pain. However, positive emotions can cause the ‘gate’ to close, so you feel less pain. Our osteopaths will bear this in mind and always consider your mental health as a factor in your pain, referring you to other practitioners to help with your mental health if necessary.

  • Muscles can get tight around the site of injury, which is good in the acute phase, to protect us, but after a while the tight muscles themselves can cause us problems. The old injury can sometimes be completely healed but the remaining tight muscles can still be signaling to the brain that there is a problem so by releasing the muscles with various techniques, we can reduce the pain.

  • Encouraging normal movement: after long periods of adapting to pain, the body can build up lots of tight and restricted areas. Osteopathy can help to regain some of the movement you have lost to help you function a lot better. This might be achieved by soft tissue work, mobilisations or manipulations, to name a few techniques.

  • Relaxing the body and mind: this calms down stress which will help to prevent the excessive response from the brain (Pain Gate Theory). This takes practice. Learning how to do things such as meditation can take months or even years to fully master, but it’s not a case of getting nowhere for ages, you gradually get better and better the more you practice. So, the meditation becomes more and more effective!

  • General relaxing touch: Swedish massage for example giving positive touch will inhibit nociceptive signals and calm down an over-active nervous system and kick start the parasympathetic nervous system, which is a network of nerves that is responsible for relaxing your body after stressful periods.

  • Exercise and gentle movement: this can help release endorphins and dopamine (feel-good hormones), as well as improve sleep, lower stress hormones, allow for better brain function, which can all help to reduce anxiety (less anxiety = less pain!)

  • Mental health: working with our counsellors or hypnotherapists to relax and practice calming down the brains excessive response by addressing any stressors.

Would you like to talk to us about how we can help relieve your chronic pain?

At Soco Therapies we are proud of our approach to chronic pain and love that we can make such a difference to people in our community. If you would like to talk to us about how we can help you book your free, no obligation consultation with us now by calling:

Call: 01202 422 000

Or you can book an appointment through our website. More and more

is being understood about chronic pain every day and we keep ourselves up to date with the latest information so that we can always give you the best quality of help and treatment.

It’s also a good idea to have a look at our social channels where we have more information on our therapies, therapists, and tips and tricks to feel better:

Instagram: @soco_therapies

Facebook: SoCo Therapies

Got a burning question?

If you have a question, it’s likely someone else is wondering the same thing! Don’t be afraid to get in touch with us on our socials or call us! We can answer your question publicly (confidentially of course!) and that way we can help even more people.

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