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Psychosocial Determinants of Musculoskeletal Pain

Musculoskeletal pain is essentially pain felt in the body or thought to be coming from muscles and joints (tendons, ligaments and fascia also). Psychosocial describes factors in a persons life that affect, impact, alter or change the way a person thinks and socialises.

I joke in my practice that the cause of back and neck pains, headaches and migraines is work! Therefore curation of such pains would occur if work was given up. In reality it is the perceived control, support and satisfaction of a person within their role at work, the spending of their time as well as inconsistencies between effort and reward that have been highlighted as features of psychosocial (pain) factors in the workplace. (1)

The interaction we have with our pain and the common brain states that we reside in will also affect our experience of pain. Disproportionate pain, where pain is intense yet tissue damage is minimal, can trigger fear avoidance behaviour which is a strategy in real life to keep an experience. Replace pain with pleasure and take a moment to consider how much effort would need to be diverted to your strategy of living a life to avoid all pleasure. A strategy that would inevitably make you hyper-vigilant about pleasure experiences drawing your attention to, not away from, pleasurable experiences.

Chiropractic Care includes the advice and knowledge passed to you by your chiropractor about your symptom experience. Gaining insight into why you might have a painful body can relieve the intensity and duration of your pain. Facilitating improved muscle and joint balance through Chiropractic adjustments complements your insight derived from talking to your knowledgeable chiropractor. Chiropractic Care is an opportunity to learn a new normal whilst unlearning the unwanted, old (painful) normal.

  1. Vargas-Prada S and Coggon D Psychological and Psychosocial Determinants of Musculoskeletal Pain and Associated Disability. Best Practice and Research: Clinical Rheumatology 2015 June; 29(3) 374-390.

Understanding Back Pain

The spine has about 24 vertebrae with most having three joints. One joint is a disc and the other two are joints just like your finger joints that are synovial type but called facet joints. When we imbricate our facet joints of the spine as suggested by Horrigan in a condition called facet Arthrosis, pain can be generated just the same as when one stubs their finger or a toe. We all know that stubbing produces more than one type of pain because we have probably experienced it. The spine has 6 different pain mediators. Pain killers affect 2 or sometimes 3 different types of pain mediator. Meaning that pain killers have no effect on some back pain.

Imagine stubbing your finger against a wall over and over 24/7 for about two weeks. This behaviour would cause you to have a reasonably sore finger. You can stop stubbing your finger; probably because someone can point it out to you and unlike the spine you do not have to use it to move around. You have to use your spine when you move. Thus you will have a certain amount of stubbing that continues with regard to the spinal joints.

The spinal joints are surrounded by other tissues that can be pain sensitive and also be part of mixed up motor sensory signals within your nervous system. essentially a healthy joint is moving well in it’s full range of motion with synovial fluid providing nutrients in and waste product removal. A healthy joint is only part of the movement that you perform when you move. Having joint manipulation may be only part of a strategy to get you well, once again.

If you do nothing (called natural history) back pain will likely resolve in about 6 weeks. Pain killers can help to take the edge off of your symptoms during that time and you can get through it without body manipulation. Unfortunately the route of natural history can mean that your nervous system adapts to a new normal (learns to have back pain). This new normal is like updating your operating system on your computer; it is changed from the original. Once installed a new normal could return back pain as back pain is now part of your normal when you get up in the morning (load up your operating system).

Getting bodywork for a back episode helps prevent the accumulation of injuries that can occur when left to natural history. A psychological impact of (natural history) having pain in the body for over three weeks means that you become more sensitive to pain in the same area in the future. Over time you can accumulate many odd patterns of movement in a lifetime that lead you to abnormally load your tissues and send to the brain conflicting sensory motor signals. Conflicting sensory motor signals (subluxation, dysafferentation) can be the problem behind surprising bouts of back pain. The type of episodes that are really severe for a day or two and then symptomatically resolve like there was never a symptom. These conflicting messages are an indication that your sensory system could do with some help. A bodyworker provides sensory information to your brain about your body through the medium of touch (amongst other interventions). Once the right touch ‘language’ is used then your conflicting sensory motor signals conflict no more.