What is Pain?
Pain is a sensation of discomfort in the body.
Pain can range from mild to severe or even unbearable. It may be acute meaning that it is temporary, lasting from just a couple of hours to maybe a month. Or it may be chronic lasting for up to an entire lifetime.
Whatever the case may be, pain has to be addressed. The evolutionary purpose of pain is to allow us to know when something is not right with the body. The human version of an engine light.
You wouldn’t ignore your car’s engine light if it were blinking. That same care should be extended to your body when you experience unusual pain.
Causes of Pain
Identifying the cause of pain is the first step in pain management. There are so many potential causes of pain in the body. Fortunately, the location and intensity of pain usually give a good clue about what is causing it.
Some of the common causes of pain include:
- Physical trauma: this is one of the most common causes of pain. It is quite simple and direct. If you hit your body with something, it is going to hurt. The pain is usually in proportion to the intensity of the trauma. Bumping your toe on the table will not hurt as bad as getting hit by a truck.
- Disease or illnesses: pain is a common symptom for many diseases. Pain during illness is usually a sign of inflammation. Inflammatory diseases like IBS (Inflammatory Bowel Disease) and arthritis can cause very painful episodes especially if untreated.
- Infections: infections like flu and bacterial infections can cause pain around the body. The pain is usually a sign of increased inflammation but other factors may be at play. This can be seen in how patients of COVID-19 suffered from joint pain.
- Tissue damage: damage to tissues can also cause pain for example in toothaches or osteoporosis.
- Natural body processes: some body processes cause pain for reasons that may be hard to understand. A classic example would be menstrual cramps in women. Teething in babies also causes pain in the gums.
- Medication; some medications like cholesterol-lowering statins may cause pain as a side effect.
- Nerve damage; damage to nerves can cause pain in the body. Pinched nerves, for example, can cause pain in the affected area.
If there is a type of pain we are all bound to experience at least once in our lifetimes, it is musculoskeletal pain. In addition to emotional pain, of course.
Like the name suggests, musculoskeletal pain is a type of pain that affects the skeletal muscles. Our muscles work every day when we move. If forced to work too much or too little, they can easily malfunction resulting in pain.
Types of Musculoskeletal Pain
- Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS); this is the kind of pain you feel in your muscles 1 to 2 days after an intense workout.
- Muscle strain; this is caused by overexertion of muscles. In other words, forcing your muscles to do more than they can handle.
- Myofascial pain; myofascia is a tissue that surrounds the muscles. It can get damaged from practices like poor posture, repetitive motions, and muscle tension.
- Fibromyalgia; this is a chronic condition that causes muscle pain and tenderness all over the body (also referred to as widespread pain)
- Rhabdomyolysis; is a life-threatening condition resulting from the breakdown of muscle tissue. Rhabdomyolysis causes intense muscle pain and leakage of muscle protein into the blood and urine.
- Neurological muscle pain; Muscle tissue has billions of nerve endings in it. If the flow of impulses is disrupted, it can cause intense pain in the muscles.
Good pain vs Bad pain
Whatever pain you may be experiencing can be categorized into two; good pain or bad pain. It may seem rather paradoxical to describe pain as good but there is in fact pain that your body needs to experience.
Good pain is usually pain caused by challenging a muscle to perform an unfamiliar movement. Bad pain, on the other hand, is caused by injury to the body.
DOMS is a common example of good pain. It shows that the muscle is building more tissue and getting stronger.
How can you tell bad pain from good pain?
It is very important to know the difference between good and bad pain. This is because the approach to solving either of the two is different. For good pain, it is usually enough to rest and wait it out.
In the case of bad pain, you have to treat the pain immediately, sometimes requiring medical attention.
Characteristics of bad pain include:
- Bad pain usually causes you to sacrifice good form during exercise. If you find yourself having to make adjustments to your form during exercise, you should probably take a break till you can maintain the right form.
- It appears out of the blue. Good pain should develop slowly as your muscles try to recover. If a muscle begins to hurt all of a sudden, it is most likely bad pain.
- It occurs at the joints. There is no such thing as good joint pain. If your joints hurt, seek treatment immediately to prevent further damage
- The pain is uneven. Good pain should be even on both sides of the body. If, for example, one shoulder hurts after exercise and the other doesn’t, consider getting it checked out.
- The pain is in one specific spot as opposed to a more generalized area.
Treatment of Bad Musculoskeletal Pain
A good massage from a qualified massage therapist can perform wonders for sore muscles. Massage improves muscle soreness by increasing blood flow to the affected area and loosening knots that may have formed in the muscle.
Increased blood flow allows the affected muscle to receive the necessary nutrients and resources to heal faster.
Acupuncture has been shown to be effective in relieving pain caused by different conditions including sore muscles.
Acupuncture relieves pain through different means like increasing blood flow and stimulating the body to release self-healing compounds like anti-inflammatories.
Continued movement of a sore muscle is key to recovery.
Physiotherapy provides the muscles with just enough movement to promote recovery without worsening the pain. You should get your physiotherapy from a certified practitioner for the best results.
In addition to the above approaches to muscle recovery, you may also be prescribed medication. Pain killers can help with temporary pain relief as you get more permanent treatment for your pain.
Some of the common medications for muscle pain include Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) and steroid injections.
Referred Muscle Pain
We cannot discuss pain and not talk about one of the most confusing aspects of pain, referred pain.
Referred pain as a whole is not yet fully understood. It is believed that it is caused by confusion in the path of a pain signal as it is transferred to the brain.
A common example is sciatica where the sciatic nerve gets irritated at its origin in the lower back. However, instead of feeling the pain in the back, it is felt in the lower leg along the path of the nerve.
Sometimes referred pain is not caused by nerves but by muscle tissue. Taut bands, known as muscle trigger points develop in muscle tissue when it undergoes stress. When the muscle is continuously stressed by activities like exercise or poor posture, these trigger points may start to function abnormally.
Self-care techniques for musculoskeletal pain
The best approach to any illness is to seek the help of a qualified professional. This however does not stop you from taking some action towards your healing process.
In addition to the therapy you might be getting from a professional, here are some techniques to help yourself at home
- Massage; in addition to your massage sessions, you can give yourself a gentle massage at home to give yourself some more relief. Ask your massage therapist for some tips on how to get your massage right.
- Posture; your posture may be the reason your muscles are feeling tense. Poor sitting posture mostly affects the neck and back muscles but other muscle groups may be affected as well.
- Foam roller; Using a high-density foam roller can help improve pain in muscles. Other mobilization tools like a golf or tennis ball can also help you get a good self-massage at home.
- Topical creams; there are several gels, ointments, and creams that can help your muscle pain. Experiment with a few until you find one that works for you.
- Magnesium; Magnesium is a very important mineral for muscle health and function. It can be used in many forms for example bath salts, creams, and oral supplements
- Movement; muscle pain, unless severe, should not be a reason for you to stop moving your body. Try to achieve some movement in the affected areas every day through low-intensity exercises like walking and yoga stretches.
During these exercises, try not to strain your already painful muscles.
- Diet; The food you eat has a very large impact on muscle and overall health. Try to eat a balanced diet rich in protein and vitamin C to aid recovery after physical exercise.
- Rest; rest days are just as important as the days you work out. Give your body enough time to recover and repair the muscles you tore during exercise. Overworking your muscles will only lead to damage instead of growth in the long run.
What Rub Massage does
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We provide Remedial Massage in Adelaide with a professional team over 4 sites – City, Marryatville, Kent Town and Unley.
We aim to deliver the remedial massage therapy you want, utilising the best techniques so that you have reduced pain, improved flexibility and can live the life you want. This Adelaide Remedial Massage Therapy team can help you unwind from everyday stress and get your body back on track.
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