So, what are these situations that can cause the tissues of the body to send inflammation-causing stress signals in the first place? At the same time, you might be wondering: “Why does this sudden painful back-up of inflammation happen in the first place?” We can’t control factors that we don’t understand, so let’s take a look. In many cases the answers may be simpler than we imagine – but only if we pay attention to them right away. People who have learned to put up with pain on a daily basis teach their body and nervous system to ignore important warning signs. When things are finally “bad enough” to feel attention is warranted, the situation can be so convoluted and veiled in protective or compensatory layers that it becomes a very long road back to being pain free. The pain of inflammation even just slightly out of control is the body’s primary way to communicate to us about anything it perceives to be an irritant – a burden. Sometimes the irritant is fairly obvious, like a sports injury, but most of the time our everyday pain is from something much more subtle and deceptively familiar.
It’s not such a leap to see that inflammation is one of the body’s main adaptive responses to stress and injury. What you might find surprising though, is the wide variety of situations that are actually considered by the brain to be stressful or injurious. Many of them don’t involve anything sudden or very obvious at all. Many types of stress are the result of prolonged imbalance. There can be either mechanical imbalance or chemical imbalance. We will take a closer look at both of these with increasing detail throughout the book and upcoming blog posts….
Our ongoing struggle to physically balance different parts of our body while moving around, upright against gravity provides many opportunities for mechanical stress, while a dizzying combination of genetics, toxin or allergen load and nutrient intake dictate how chemically vulnerable our tissues are to physiological stress or imbalance. So, on a daily basis, moment to moment we’re either doing our darnedest to balance the structural load of various body parts (both in motion and stillness) against the forces of gravity or, we’re navigating a delicate dance between what boils down to “garbage in vs. garbage out”. Since inflammation or, using the analogy; a body “on fire” is basically a body doing its best to repair itself, we know the intention is good; the combustion of fire is after all very helpful at breaking down waste and waste is exactly what is produced by these stressed and injured tissues.
While tissue stressors or irritants are fairly universal and predictable, individual tolerance levels vary widely from person to person. There are countless things that we do or subject ourselves to in daily life that are potential irritants to our muscles, joints and organ systems, but because each body has such wildly differing composition of mechanical and chemical resilience, not everyone responds or reacts in the same way to the same degree of irritation.
Think of the treadmill example again for a minute (more about this in a previous post: “Ouch I Wasn’t Even Doing Anything”). Five different people walking at the same speed for the same amount of time will show five individual displays of treadmill stress at different moments. These differences will depend on their fitness level, energy level, when and what they last ate or drank, as well as individual performance potential based on genetics – just to mention a few variables. Whether or not we see the effects right away, in this example the treadmill is the indisputable and universal source of stress. We see that there is a high variability in how the effects of this stress is manifested and experienced by the person subjected to it. But accepting the fact that being on the treadmill is a universal source of physical stress, we can better see that first of all, whatever the response to it – it is not an unreasonable reaction and secondly, it gives us a starting point for figuring out what needs to change. Mechanical stressors (in this example the act of moving against gravity) can and do often co-exist with chemical stressors (tissue waste, “smoke” and “flames” of the waste clean up effort). Sometimes, it’s the chemical buildup and sometimes it the mechanical irritation that tips the scale pushing us to a painful state.
Very often, by the time we feel pain, both mechanics and chemistry are at play to some degree. In some cases we might find that both are actually strongly influenced by lesser acknowledged but sometimes extremely pertinent and deeply ingrained emotional factors as well. We will continue to take a closer look at all three of these sources of stress or influences on pain: 1. mechanics, 2. chemistry and 3. emotions.
The information provided in this blog is in no way intended to and should not be used to substitute for individualized medical advice.
Please consult a health care provider for the proper treatment of your pain.
“Every Body's Guide to Everyday Pain,” “Return to Health,” “Return to Health Press,” and accompanying logos and domain names are trademarks of Return to Health, P.S. and Dr. Ya-Ling J. Liou.
- Do You Know Why Your Back “Gave Out”?
- 3 Mechanical Stressors That Can Cause Pain