Chronic pain complaints are very difficult and expensive. The expense is both in quality of life and interference with productivity. Difficulties arise from the frustrations of dealing with a real physical problem that does not seem to go away and the conventional medical system that can not deal in a positive, productive way with a lot of chronic pain problems. In most cases, chronic pain has real physical origins that do not show up as clearly as some other physical complaints in typical medical testing. Broken bones can be discovered by X-rays, MRI, or Catscans and treated by physical medicine including surgeries. But “soft-tissue” injuries that often comprise chronic pain complaints are frustrating for doctors and patients alike.
Chronic muscle contraction headaches, neck/shoulder pain, low back pain, and pain/tightness of the jaw are the most common, devastating and expensive of these problems. There are others that certainly fit in here such as: peripheral pain in the arms and legs, intercostal-muscular chest pain, some pelvic pain, etc., but are not as common.
The most common reason that these problems do not heal easily, relates to the nature of the injury and healing process. If you were to cut yourself, what would you do? You would clean the wound and bandage it. The bandage helps to protect this location from added abuse and it helps to hold the wound skin in place so that it might heal by knitting together. In many low back or neck/shoulder injuries, after an accident that pulls or strains these muscles, tendons, or ligaments, you can not just lie down and wait for these injuries to heal. By moving in normal daily activities you be using these important muscles groups and by using these muscles groups it would be like pulling at either side of a cut. The separation of the skin of the cut would keep it from healing. Movement and unconscious muscle tension keeps the deeper muscle or soft tissue injuries from healing. The “Catch-22? is that too much immobility will produce physical therapy problems also. A “frozen shoulder” for example can be a nightmare for people who avoid movement to that joint for too long a period while trying to protect it from further injury.
Another problem is that people in chronic pain get frustrated with the lack of progress and the sense of the “loss of control” of their bodies and their lives. This often leads to a physical/emotional state of tension that can intensify the symptoms of pain and slow the healing process. The pain is not “all in their heads” but their emotional fears, angers, and frustrations can cause the pain to be made worse. All of the muscles involved in creating these pain complaints or making them worse are subject to major unconscious tension from the major survival mechanism known as the Flight/Fight Response. This automatic response prepares the body to defend itself from a perceived life threatening situation by preparing to fight or to flee to save your life. When the muscle groups tighten, to get ready for the action of fighting or fleeing the pain or emotional upsets, these muscle groups, if injured, can increase their fatigue and go into the spasms that create pain or make existing pain or injuries worse.
Many other unconscious factors can contribute to the creation or intensification of pain. Headaches, jaw pain, neck/shoulder pain, and back pain can all be made worse by habits such as poor posture. A potential factor in all of these chronic pains can be head position. We are unconsciously taught to be aggressive and many of us keep our heads or chins stuck out in front of us, as if to “lead” with our jaws/chins. This aggressive, attacking posture can put a major postural strain on the neck, shoulders, jaw, and lower back. Improper breathing can put an unnecessary, inappropriate workload on your shoulders and upper back (diaphragmatic breathing should be learned and used to avoid this contributing factor to headache, neck/shoulder, and back pain).