This is part of a series I call “My Approach Mondays” where I discuss how I approach different symptoms and diseases. I hope you find this information helpful!

Chronic pain affects more Americans than diabetes, heart disease and cancer combined [1]. This means that nearly 1/3 of the people in this country suffer from some form of chronic pain!
Six of the top ten most prescribed drugs in the US in 2005 were pain medications and four of them are used to treat depression [2]. Coincidence? I think not. It’s not surprised we’re all bummed out- many of these people go to doctor after doctor and never really get an answer. When x-rays and MRIs come back clean the patient almost always gets told that they are fine (translation: I think it’s all in your head because on film you look fine) despite being in chronic, often times debilitating pain.

The thing that is absolutely critical for you to understand is that pain is a cortical event- it takes place in the brain. The only thing that needs to happen for you to feel pain is those neurons in your brain that perceive pain need to come to threshold. The thing that makes pain so tricky (and fascinating) is that those neurons can be brought to threshold for a million reasons.
– Receptors in the skin or tissue get activated by tissue damage* or other processes
– Mechanical receptors in the tissues stop firing**, and thus, stop inhibiting pain neurons
– Neurons in the spinal cord that normally inhibit (stop) pain pathways stop firing
– Neurons in the brain stem that normally inhibit pain stop firing
– Neurons in the brain that produce the perception of pain fire
– Neurons in parts of the brain that normally inhibit pain stop firing

*The underlying assumption in almost all conventional methods for diagnosing and treating chronic pain is that there is tissue damage. I would argue, however, that this is often not the case.
**This is why movement in the form of exercise and spinal adjustments are so critical to any pain management protocol.

We could break this list down further and examine reasons why various neurons either stop doing their job or start firing when we don’t want them to… but that would make for far too long of a post. Just know that anything that causes inflammation, disease, or imbalance in the body affects every single cell in your body including the neurons involved in pain perception. Examples could include diabetes or blood sugar problems, anemia, hypothyroidism, concussion, leaky gut syndrome, autoimmune disease, food sensitivities, hormonal imbalances, or lack of quality sleep.

My general approach with chronic pain is simply:
1. Evaluate weather or not the pain is coming from actual tissue damage through the use of orthopedic testing, X-ray or MRI
2. Take a holistic approach to finding the root cause(s) of imbalance or inflammation (such as those above) in that person and address those issues using as holistic and non-invasive approach as possible
3. Share in that person’s joy when their pain magically gets better as their body gets healthier (often-times)

If you or somebody you know is interested in working with a functional medicine doctor please call my office at (919) 238-4094 and see if we are the right fit for you. Infinity Holistic Healthcare is located in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, part of the Raleigh-Durham “triangle” area.

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