Addicted to Pain, Sensitization of the Nervous System, & Rehab to the Rescue
Mental health issues are at an all-time high, so I’m told! It’s in the news everywhere you turn, so I’ll assume it’s true! It also seems to be disproportionally high in our younger generation. I have my own theories about that. I think the obsession with phones and social media is a problem. Simon Sinek (fantastic ‘thought leader’ – look him up, if you don’t know who I’m talking about), says it’s because of the dopamine hit they/we get with every ping of our phone, and the withdrawal of the dopamine when it is absent. I have also witnessed a reduced ability to connect with each other – to converse, to discuss, to problem solve, to talk, face to face, live and in person as compared to my own generation. (Now I sound old.) I think this is a contributing factor as well.
Anyhoo, let me spin my yarn a bit further along. So, I was discussing with my oldest son about people getting addicted to their state of being. (i.e. Addicted to being depressed. Addicted to the ‘story in their head’.) My point was that in order to start ‘feeling’ better one had to ‘think’ better. Catching yourself when you start to repeat the negative dialogue in your head. Purposely change the narrative, notice the good, appreciate the beauty, feel gratitude, and respond differently.
One thing we know about chronic pain from pain science research, is that the brain changes in response to chronic pain. It sets itself up to register all pain signals from a certain area or everywhere else for that matter. It hyper-focuses on pain. (I’m willing to bet that the same happens with feelings of depression or sadness.)
Recently, I was fortunate to listen to a lecture recently by an Australian veterinarian who practices almost entirely in chiropractic treatment. His talk was about the things he had experienced over his many decades of practice, and how he has come to believe that in some cases of peripheral lameness (i.e. navicular syndrome or laminitis in horses) that the conditions were preceded by a spinal joint dysfunction. He further speculated that the pathway for the chain of events was caused by a sensitization of the entire nervous system – leading to changes in use, patterning, inflammation, etc. He had stories of reversing cases of laminitis and navicular syndrome via spinal manipulation. Mind blowing!
So, how am I tying all of these thoughts together?
1. Maybe dogs can get addicted to their pain. Certainly, there is a big push to increase awareness and competence in veterinary pain management. We understand that best pain management practices in an acute pain event can minimize the progression to chronic pain states. While the word ‘addicted’ seems to imply a voluntary choice to experience pain, however it could be looked at as an involuntary process whereby the nervous system becomes abundantly attuned to all pain signals (real or perceived). So, ‘the body’ and ‘the brain’ are involuntarily addicted to the ‘pain narrative’.
2. Psychological ‘reframing’. On the surface, there does not appear to be a way to tap into the psychology of the dog to say, ‘think about what you CAN do versus what you CAN’T.’ However, we can empower owners in this pursuit. I believe THAT is equally powerful. Dogs feed off or our emotions. They ‘read out energy’, if you will. So, giving owners optimism, hope, and tools to help their animals, could very well be a way to access the dog’s ‘state of mind’. Food for thought anyways. I also think that going on ‘outings’ (i.e. Going to physio, going for a walk and a sniff, going for a visit) is another way to tap into the psychology of our animal patients.
3. Massage therapy can decrease cortisol and increase serotonin and dopamine. This is great news for us as rehab practitioners. I’m sure that any touch or other therapies has the same effect.
4. Anything that targets the nervous system. There are so many therapeutic options available to us! Whether it be massage, mobilizations, myofascial release, laser therapy, shockwave therapy, or therapeutic exercise, we can target the nervous system, which has a demonstratable ability to help with pain management as well as healing.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this one!
Have a great week ahead!