Cooling Chronic Pain

You touch a hot stove, you feel pain, and your hand reflexively pulls away. This type of pain demands your attention and informs you that tissue damage is about to occur or is taking place. You naturally retreat and change your behavior in an appropriate manner to protect. This is fairly simple to understand. However, pain that does not go away is not at all that simple. It is natural and deeply ingrained to fully attribute long lasting back pain for example, to ragged old discs or persistent knee pain to lack of cartilage or other deformities. The sufferer retreats and perhaps feels forced to live life very differently in order to protect. Chronic pain may “feel like” injury could occur or is occurring when you reach, bend, or turn but this is not necessarily what is happening. What is not typical knowledge is that there are patterned changes that crop-up in the spinal chord and brain that play a big role in the development and perpetuation of chronic pain. Neuroscience continues to reveal that these changes are brought about in part by how we personally perceive pain and how we behave in response to pain perception. A person with a sore hip has developed a habit of guarding and tensing muscle when performing simple tasks such as putting on shoes. Successful treatment oftentimes cannot be attained if it merely focuses on the original mechanical source, i.e. the hip joint in this example. Interventions for persistent pain need to address the central nervous system changes as well. Physical therapists treat the whole person and are often part of an interdisciplinary team in the treatment of chronic pain. We apply a broad array of evidence-based physical and behavioral interventions to ease pain and improve physical abilities.

By Anna Kotula, PT, DPT 805.798.1408