Pain Thresholds

Three_Surveillance_camerasWhy do some people have lower pain thresholds than others?

Some people abuse their bodies horribly, experience some soreness for a day or so, then fully recover. Others, those with chronic pain, can do only minor things to their bodies and yet they have pain that is severely out of proportion and lasts for weeks or longer. And why do people with chronic pain get worse over the years?

The answer can be found in the body’s protective mechanism. When the body has been injured, or has perceived an injury, it begins to form restrictions in the fascial layers surrounding that area. These restrictions get “stuck” and, over time, limit the body’s flexibility and strength. This sets the body up for pain that comes and goes throughout a lifetime.

Sometimes a small injury is all that is needed to set this process in motion, an injury so minor that it doesn’t cause much difficulty in everyday life. Imagine the sort of pain or aggravation that comes and goes every few months or even years. Every time this area flares up, though, the body responds by recruiting other muscles to help out or by tightening further to avoid additional injury. In addition, the body will create more nerve receptors in the area to try and figure out what is happening. Eventually the pain may subside but, because there are more pain receptors in the area that are designed to notice injury, the pain returns with less provocation. The longer a person has been having pain come and go, the more pain receptors there are for next time.  Think about how a business owner will put up a camera to catch a vandal.  A smart vandal sees the camera and attacks the building in another area.  Another camera goes up.  Eventually there are so many cameras that every little movement gets detected and treated like a vandal.  The body is similar in that eventually there are so many nerve receptors that even very little movement is detected as a possible injury.  It is a terrible cycle that often ends up with a lingering pain that no longer fully goes away.

The solution? The restrictions must be released so the fascia can return to normal length. [see the blog- What Causes Tender Points] Unfortunately even this does not solve the problem completely as there will still be more pain receptors than usual in the area. Those are removed by the body once the receptors are no longer needed. The process is a slow one and requires the person to know their limitations and listen to their pain.

This solution may only be partially successful when there is severe pathology such as having torn structures, a compromised nerve root in the spine, nerve damage, or disease processes.  Some surgical procedures will also impact how well the body responds to this treatment.  In most of these cases, some pain relief and restoration of function can be achieved.

It is critical to not push through pain while still increasing activity and blood flow as much as possible during this recovery time. Proper hydration is also important to allow the body to rid itself of toxins. Our bodies have wonderful healing abilities when not hindered by fascial restrictions.

Avatar photo About Christine Wood

Christine Wood, PT, DPT lives in Augusta County in the heart of Virginia’s beautiful Shenandoah Valley with her husband and children. With over 20 years of experience as a Physical Therapist, her hands have brought healing and pain relief to thousands of clients.