Why Treating Pain isn’t Solving Your Problem

Hey guys, it’s your favorite Chiropractor, Dr. Lell here. I want to talk about pain. Pain is a HUGE topic and pain science is the sexy new focus for today’s researchers and clinicians. So to narrow it down, I’m want to talk about YOUR pain as a symptom.

Pain is a big deal in healthcare. It is at the source of today’s opioid epidemic. It is the single largest reason people visit emergency rooms. Pain is what everyone wants their doctors to stop. And there are many great ways to ease someone’s pain. You’ve got drugs. You’ve got surgery. Chiropractors. Physical Therapists. Acupuncturists. The list goes on and on of people that can help with pain. You’ve got more than 150 clinics in Portland alone that solely operate to treat pain; they’re called pain clinics and range from shady “pill mills” to nice integrated care settings. But here’s the kicker – pain is a symptom. It isn’t something you treat.

Pain is a Symptom of a Problem

I want you to think about the last time you had a cavity. Bacteria slowly ate away at some of your tooth’s enamel and into the tooth, a cavity was formed, and then sometime after that you felt some pain in your tooth. Eventually, the pain gets so bothersome that you have to do something about it. You could take some pain medicine. You could put some gel or salve on the painful tooth. Both of these things would take the pain away but neither of them will fix the cause of the pain – the cavity. Another option is going to the dentist who will fill the cavity. Once the problem is solved and the cavity is filled, the pain will go away.

Making pain reduction the primary goal of treatment can make things very tricky because even though you definitely have pain in your shoulder or toe, there’s nothing tangible or observable there that you can collect or point at. Pain is a sensation created by the brain in an area that needs help.

Even in a person with chronic low back pain, and MRI can show a herniated disc at the exact level where the pain is felt and surgery to that disc may not stop the pain. This also explains why people can still experience pain in amputated limbs. Much of what we feel as pain is int he brain! Whether or not you feel pain, and how bothersome or severe it is, is largely subject to things outside your body like your mood and stress levels. Sometimes, there’s absolutely nothing at all wrong with the tissues in the area that’s feeling pain.

Think of pain like a smoke detector. Let’s say an appliance overheats and ignites. The fire creates smoke and that alarm goes off. The alarm is what grabs your attention and forces you to do something. What’s the right thing to do? Take the batteries out of the alarm so it stops chirping? Or put out the fire? Only treating pain is like taking the batteries out of the alarm and ignoring the fire.

Pain is just a symptom. It shows up after something has been going wrong for a while. It’s like the tip of the iceberg. Pain is the last thing to show up and it’s the first thing to go away. Treating pain is easy, but only treating pain and not what’s causing the pain is a great way to let that problem quietly get worse causing even more pain in the future.

If something is causing you pain and you’d like to feel better and fix the problem, schedule an appointment online

In a future post, I’ll talk about how and why Chiropractic care can reduce pain and the nuts and bolts of the Chiropractic view on the human and function.

As always, if you have any questions, comments, or want to read about a specific topic, drop me a line on Facebook! Until next time, eat well and move often!

Yours in health,
Dr. Lell