Pain education can help reduce pain and disability; often, good pain education reduces your nervous system’s identification of various signals as “threatening”. If you’ve been following my recent blog posts, our brains can perceive many things as threatening and therefore, output pain as a result. These things may be nociception, emotions, ideas, memories and more. In addition, I have written about how some health care providers, unknowingly, pass on messages that can be threatening. This is particularly true when well meaning health care providers ascribe too much importance to some alleged injury to your muscles, ligaments, tendons and joints as the cause of the pain. For example, many massage therapists, chiropractors, physical therapists and trainers talk about muscle knots; there really are no such things, well….. they’re not knots.
How many times has your chiropractor or massage therapist told you that you had extensive muscle knots and scar tissue, and that was the cause of your pain? This idea may have caused you to think you had caused some damage to your body. In turn, even sub-consciously, this may have caused you to lose confidence in your ability to heal.
And what was “prescribed” for these “knots”? Probably, lots of massage, chiropractic adjustments, stretching, foam rolling, joint mobilizations and more. Why?
No one knows the answer, it certainly isn’t because all of these things have been proven to help with tender spots in our bodies. Please, read that again…… This last sentence may be a shock to some of you as most providers pass their recommendations off as scientific facts. Try this as an experiment, see what happens when you perform, fun, novel movements within and pain free range without foam rolling, rolling on lacrosse balls, using trigger point sticks, knobs, without getting adjusted and without constant stretching. Chances are, you’ll feel pretty good.
Often, as a health care provider myself, I find that some of my recommendations to patients become obsessions; so I need to be certain that my recommendations are rooted in science. Doctors and therapists can cause patients a lot of anxiety by making them feel like they defects in their body when there is no evidence of them. Many of my patients have been told that their back is “out”, that they have the “neck of a seventy year old”, or that their knee is “bone on bone.” These statements can increase the perception of threat, cause disability and pain, and lead to treatments that are unnecessary or even harmful. Yes, these statements can be interpreted as threatening by our brains and actually cause pain and disability.
I have to share a video that has been circulating recently showing physical therapist Peter O’Sullivan, working with a former client, Jack, about his dramatic recovery from debilitating back pain. The successful therapy involved dealing with Jack’s fears that forward bending was unsafe, which stemmed in part from hearing previous therapists tell him that he had the “back of a seventy year old”, that his back was “in pieces” and that “he couldn’t do nothing.” But O’Sullivan showed him otherwise, and the results were amazing to say the least. This guy went from not being able to ride in a car to digging ditches pain free in short order. I have been showing this to my students lately and hope you too will find it a bit mind-blowing:
The results Jack experienced are pretty amazing and I can tell you, from my clinical experience, his were pretty extreme. I have seen patients leave my office in quite a bit less pain and some, pain free, after a good “dose” of pain education. For more information on this topic and to se some of the pain education tools I use in practice, go here, Pain relief Portland, OregonYours in Health,Tim Irving DC, MS, LMTOptimum Function: 819 SE Morrison St. ste. 215, Portland, OR, 97215Optimum Function = Optimum Health
In the first part of my blog entries about pain, I wrote about pain and how much is too much versus how much is to be expected. Basically, laying out the guidelines to figure out if the pain you are experiencing is “normal” or if it requires treatment.
This part is about myofascial pain and stretching.
Stretching does Not Help Prevent Injuries:
The best way to avoid myofascial and/or musculoskeletal pain is to no injure yourself. At my Portland Brazilian jiu jitsu gym, Straight Blast Gym, I find many people stretching for various reasons and in various ways. Static stretching, dynamic stretching and even stretching with a buddy occurs in gyms everywhere. Why?
Often, when asked, people respond by stating that it keeps them from getting injured. Well, there is little to know research evidence that suggests this is the case; in fact, there is quite a bit of evidence suggesting that stretching (depending on the type of stretching), can actually pre-dispose you to GETTING INJURED.
Rather than writing a very opinionated post about stretching, I decided to grab some convincing research evidence to back my claims:
Effect of stretching on sport injury risk: a review: This review paper surveyed research from 1966 to 2002 and found no statistically-significant link between stretching and a reduction of injury risk.
Stretching before exercise does not reduce the risk of local muscle injury: a critical review of the clinical and basic science literature: This study (another literature review) did a more comprehensive search and still found no link between stretching and decreased injury risk.
A randomized trial of preexercise stretching for prevention of lower-limb injury: This was a very well-designed study that found no reduction of injury in study participants who performed a pre-exercise stretching routine.
There are so many research papers on this topic, none seem to clearly link stretching to decreased injury.
Stretching to Reduce Pain:
Another reason people often cite when asked why they stretch is because it reduces pain for them before and after exercise or activity. Well, this may be true is they are performing active “stretches” or what I like to call self-mobilizations (more on this in a bit, it has to do with joint motion, not muscle length), it probably has no real effect on pain at all.
Again, the evidence for this is overwhelming, I have picked out a few studies to illustrate my point:
Effects of stretching before and after exercising on muscle soreness and risk of injury: systematic review; this study showed no significant decrease in soreness with stretching before or after exercise.
The effect of passive stretching on delayed onset muscle soreness, and other detrimental effects following eccentric exercise: This study also showed stretching has no effect on pain when performed before an activity.
Stretching to prevent or reduce muscle soreness after exercise: And yet another one that showed no reduction in soreness in those who stretched before and/or after activity.
Warm-up, Not Stretching:
OK, so many people stretch as part of a warm-up. The evidence is clear about stretching; skip it, but DO perform a warm up. Here is some evidence showing that warming up can help prevent injury although it probably still does not prevent soreness or pain.
Comprehensive warm-up programme to prevent injuries in young female footballers: cluster randomised controlled trial: Although the original premise that warming up would prevent lower extremity injuries was not proven; warming up does seem to reduce the risk of severe injuries and overall injuries.
Compliance with a comprehensive warm-up programme to prevent injuries in youth football: Here’s another study that showed a reduced risk of injury when young athletes perform a warm-up.
Again, skip the stretching but perform a warm-up; I’ll touch on my warm-up recommendation at the end.
Stretching and Trigger Points:
I have even heard that massage therapists, trainers and other health care providers are telling their clients/patients that stretching reduces the risk of developing myofascial trigger points. There really is no evidence for this idea; I think the idea came from (erroneously) the Travell and Simons trigger point books. I further believe it came from this part of the books; Simons et al. Myofascial Pain and Dysfunction, pp127–135.
Travell and Simons’ well-documented “spray and stretch” method seems to be promoting stretching for the treatment and eradication of myofascial trigger points. The point of the vapocoolant spray is to “distract” the nervous system from the pain of stretching a muscle that is both dysfunctional and painful because it is riddled with trigger points. These book go on to further suggest (possibly true) that myofascial trigger points have both small patches of hypercontracted muscle fibers (trigger points) and long stretches of fibers that are overextended. Without the spray, muscles in this predicament may contract defensively if stretched. Interestingly, Travell and Simons do not recommend stretching trigger points without the spray.
Stretching and Pain (Soreness):
So, does stretching help to reduce soreness from activity and exercise? No.
I have seen many patients with myofascial pain, trigger points and other musculoskeletal pain syndromes; stretching is rarely something I recommend. Here is some evidence supporting my stance on the matter; at the end of this post, I will write about my recommendations for warming up and self mobilizations:
Stretching to prevent or reduce muscle soreness after exercise: Stretching does not reduce muscle soreness after exercise…. sorry.
Warm-up and Self-Mobilizations:
The common thread here is that static stretching does not decrease activity-related pain. What does? Well, a good warm up and some mobility exercises. Here are areas of your body that really need optimal movement and mobility:
- Thoracic spine
If you tend to have joints that are mobile or hypermobile…. you don’t need to worry about mobilizations and PLEASE DON’T STRETCH. How do you know which of these areas you need to focus on? Well, if you have a history of low back or knee pain; you should focus on your thoracic spine (upper back), hips and ankles. If you’ve had a lot of shoulder injuries or neck pain, focus on your thoracic spine, shoulder and hips. Stay tuned to my new website:
In the months to come, I will be posting both free and paid lessons on this topic and more.
Yours in Health,Tim Irving DC, MS, LMTOptimum Function: 819 SE Morrison St. ste. 215, Portland, OR, 97215Optimum Function = Optimum Health
In a recent article, Chronic Pain Fuels Boom in Opioids, the issue of opioid use for pain has sky-rocketed. It’s an interesting and VERY relevant topic; and it’s not just about people taking these medication illegally. Addiction to opioid pain medication is just as much an issue in those who get their medications legally as in those who get them on the black market. Feel free to read the article, it really is a great read on the topic; I am not going to write about these issues. What I want to write about is, what happens when we over-treat pain and how could it potentially create a reward system in which we are conditioning ourselves to be in pain.
Let me explain, I’ll use opioid medication as an example. Most opioids work by connecting with receptors in the brain to simulate or release chemicals that reduce pain, often, these chemicals “reward” s for their efforts. What does this mean?
This reward system produces a scenario where we tend to be attracted to the stimulus (cause) of the reward; in this case, a squirt of dopamine. This means that we are literally rewarding ourselves for being in pain. Does this occur naturally….. yes, but not to the extent that opioids do it.
How does this translate to everything else we do for pain? Possibly the same way! I know, you’re reading this thinking, “…are you saying that I shouldn’t get chiropractic care, massage therapy, myofascial work, dry needling, acupuncture, and other treatments for pain? Are you telling me that taking anti-inflammatory medications and natural products, stretching, soaking in a hot tub and other things I can do to relieve pain are bad?”
Well, no, that’s not what I am saying. What I am saying is that maybe we have created a scenario where, by paying attention to every ache and pain and giving ourselves rewards (in the form of nice and/or therapeutic treatments) for that ache and/or pain, we have created MORE pain. We may be literally producing pain in our nervous systems at a level that’s higher than needed. This is pure clinical speculation but here’s an interesting observation; the incidence of painful conditions has risen site a bit over the last 20 years, especially in the last 10. Is this because there is a lack or deficiency in treatments to alleviate pain? No, on the contrary, there are more.
How Much Pain is OK? How much is too much?
- Is below an intensity of about 4 on a 0-10 scale
- Disappears shortly after beginning activity
- This would imply that movement is good for it, this is great.
- The morning pain should be mild, if it’s more, you need to see a doctor about it
What is pain?
Pain is an interpretation of a signal by our brain. Under normal conditions, it often tells us that there is the potential for damage of a tissue or tissues. This is not ALWAYS the case though; our brains can interpret non-damaging signals as pain and it often does. This is one of the most promising theories about the cause of chronic pain…. that our central nervous systems are creating pain when it shouldn’t.
In conclusion, pain, like any other signal in the body is just that, a signal, but that signal may be going off for the wrong reason. It is my heart-felt opinion that we need to connect to our bodies better so that we can know when a certain pain is normal and not a signal that we are damaging anything versus when a certain pain is a signal that we need help.
I will be addressing this topic in future posts and will be talking about movements and movement patterns you can do to determine if pain you are feeling is a normal part of being active or if it is a sign that it’s going to cause long-term issues with movement and possibly be a sign that certain tissues are being damaged.Yours in Health,Tim Irving DC, MS, LMTOptimum Function: 819 SE Morrison St. ste. 215, Portland, OR, 97215Optimum Function = Optimum Health
As a Chiropractor and educator in Portland, Oregon, I see patients with pain of all types and intensities; I also lecture on myofascial pain and mechanical pain (low back, shoulder, neck, etc.). A subject that recently came up with both my students, interns and colleagues is, how much pain is OK?
Can you answer this? How about your medical doctor, naturopath, chiropractor, physical therapist? I was playing devil’s advocate with some interns in my teaching shift at NCNM and I asked them,
“Should we be treating every little ache and pain our patients have and if so, is this teaching them to be hypersensitive?”
In addition, what impact does this have on their pain coping mechanisms, both internal and external? I believe it gives the message that any and all pain is bad and makes patients much more likely to overuse pain medications. There has been some speculation amongst researchers and clinicians (doctors and therapists) alike that we are conditioning ourselves to be in pain. By taking pain medication and other remedies every time we feel, even the slightest pain, we may be conditioning our nervous system to SENSE PAIN ALL THE TIME.
Now most know that in my Portland chiropractic, nutrition, myofascial therapies and functional movement clinic, Optimum Function, I often treat patients to improve function instead of treating pain. The simple fact is, we have to help patients with their pain because often, that is why they are coming in; the unanswered question is, how much is OK?
I have been training in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) in Portland at Straight Blast Gym for almost a year now and recently, been training harder . We have some fighters going to the worlds at the end of this month and our competition team has been going at it in practice. This past Friday, my back just couldn’t take the pace and today, it’s hard for me to move around, in fact, writing this is painful as sitting seems to be the offending position. Is this OK? Well, in my opinion, it is…. let me explain.
I overdid it, I kept playing in people’s guards and they kept trying to break down my posture, the is the game of BJJ. I should have known better, my back has been feeling tired after practices for 2 weeks, I should have modified my game. Now I am in pain, I didn’t damage anything, just some minor strains and sprains but in an area that is fairly crucial to functional movement and one that is affected by just about any position I put myself in. I have no doubt, that in 2-3 days, I will be back to 100%
Why am I writing this? Because I am planning on doing a more in-depth article series on the topic and will use this information to help educate my patients and students on this topic so we don’t over focus on normal, physiologically-beneficial pain.
Stay Tuned…. feel free to leave a comment, maybe I’ll use it in the articles to come on this topic.Yours in Health,Tim Irving DC, MS, LMTOptimum Function: 819 SE Morrison St. ste. 215, Portland, OR, 97215Optimum Function = Optimum Health
Having just come back from Casper, Wyoming after taking the first of four Trigger Point Dry Needling Seminars taught by Jan Dommerholt, (who, in my opinion is one of the world’s foremost experts on trigger point dry needling), I have realized that I made a mistake in other posts.
Is dry needling acupuncture?
Yes, I believe it is…..
It is also chiropractic care and physical therapy; in fact, dry needling is ANY profession that diagnoses and treats myofascial trigger points. The needle is just a tool, many clinicians also use our hands, instruments, lasers and injectables to treat myofascial trigger points.
Dry needling is not exclusive to any one profession; let’s move on, patients need us! There is so much chronic pain out there that can be attributable (completely or in part) to myofascial trigger points that everyone who treats them and has the skills to do so with a needle SHOULD…. now!
I had a patient Wednesday of this week who has chronic TMJ pain that absolutely needs dry needling for myofascial trigger points in her lateral pterygoid. I did what I can with my hands but my hands cannot get to 90% of this muscle. What I did do knocked her pain back to the point where she is “hopeful” and does not feel like she has to live with her daily pain and headaches but because of the infighting between the chiropractic board and a few acupuncturists in Oregon, she cannot get this therapy. She had gone to orthodontists, TMJ specialists, massage therapists and yes, acupuncturists and has not had any appreciable gains with her chronic pain.
Shame on the powers that be for withholding this beneficial and valid therapy from patients who need it by not allowing providers who are qualified and trained to do it.Yours in Health,Tim Irving DC, MS, LMTOptimum Function: 819 SE Morrison St. ste. 215, Portland, OR, 97215Optimum Function = Optimum Health