If you are suffering from pain, you are certainly not alone. Today, the American Chronic Pain Association (ACPA) estimates that 100 million people in the U.S. suffer from chronic pain. And more than half of those suffering do not fully understand the reason for their pain and how to manage it. It’s no wonder that most people in this situation are frustrated further compounding their pain. As Pilates professionals, many of our clients have come to us in search of relief. We will hopefully shed light on why education and movement can help chronic pain sufferers gain control over their pain and improve their quality of life.
Understanding Chronic Pain
When there is an injury to the body, the sudden, sharp sensation that occurs is referred to as Acute pain. It serves as a warning to the body that something is not right. As the body heals, the pain should diminish with the recovery. However, when pain persists beyond the recovery of an injury or due to an ongoing condition, the pain is referred to as Chronic or Persistent. When chronic pain exists, pain signals continue to fire in the nervous system and can last more than six months and even years.
When treating chronic pain, it’s important to understand the different types of pain:
Referred pain is felt some distance from where the pain actually originates. For example, someone that has Osteoarthritis of the hip may experience pain in the knee.
Phantom pain occurs when you have had a limb, breast or other body part removed by surgery. People describe the pain as if it were coming from the absent body part. Since the nervous system still recognizes the pain messages, the pain felt is actually real.
Somatic pain is caused by activation of a pain receptor. Examples include joint and bone pain. Somatic pain is experienced as a localized aching or throbbing sensation.
Visceral pain is also caused by activation of a pain receptor and is often felt in the chest or abdomen. A good example of visceral pain is chest pain due to a heart attack. The pain often feels achy, vaguely localized, and does not feel as if it is limited to only one area. In the case of a chest pain, it can also feel as though it travels up the neck and down the arm.
Neuropathic pain is caused by destruction of a nerve in either the peripheral or central nervous system. An example is someone that experiences nerve damage after an invasive surgery. In other cases, nerve destruction can be the result of a virus. People often describe Neuropathic pain as a sharp, shooting or stabbing pain or a burning, numb, or tingling sensation. as a seizure of the as a sharp, shooting or stabbing pain or a burning, numb, or tingling sensation.
Muscular pain is caused by injury or overuse, such as back strain. The trigger point is a localized, highly sensitive spot in a tightly pulled band of skeletal muscle. Trigger points will alter the pain, causing it to increase or radiate. You may feel as if you are having a muscle spasm.
How Pilates Can Help Chronic Pain Sufferers?
Recently, a client came to us with more than 10 years of chronic lower back pain and very tight hip flexors. We started to work above and below the source of the pain, first starting with a simple hamstring exercise. What the client began to notice is that it was very difficult to activate her hamstrings and make them do the exercise moves, because her glutes were completely overpowering her hamstrings. The patterns of movement that were ingrained in her mind body connection did not recognize how to move her hamstrings. After working for only 30-40 minutes on finding length and space within the hip joint and activating the hamstrings, the pain relinquished completely. She had no pain for the first time in over 10 years.
Here is what she had to say just after our session: "I couldn't quite wrap my head around the feeling of having absolutely no pain. It’s been more than 10 years. I simply walked around the studio to allow my brain to observe the differences-- I felt 4 inches taller, my gait was longer, my hip flexors were free and long, and my back pain was nonexistent. The pain stayed at bay for a solid two hours after the session. I gained the awareness and knowledge about my body that I hadn't previously known despite the fact that I'm a professional dancer. The relief found after such a short amount of time was astounding” – Vivian.
Pilates is a way to teach the body new movement patterns. It’s in these new movement patterns that the body can begin experiencing healthy movement and relief from pain.
Healing Pain, Ann Berger , MSN, MD and C.B. deSwaan
American Chronic Pain Association (ACPA),
International Association for the Study of Pain:
How can I eliminate pain? How does Pilates help?