Being in pain is not fun at all, and if you have had joint pain,particularly the type that’s been there longer than 6 weeks, it’s probably chronic. So the question is, what’s actually causing the pain and inflammation of the joint, and how do you fix it.
To better understand pain in relation to your joints it helps to appreciate the healing time frames of soft tissues structures, bones, ligaments, cartilage, tendons and muscles.
Muscles a couple of weeks
Bones a few months
Tendons and ligaments 10 -12 months
Cartilage 12 – 18 months
So a muscle injury will heal up pretty quick, a bit of physio, acupuncture and massage therapy and you’ll be good to go. Bones are pretty straight forward, a good 12 weeks generally sees a unification of the broken bones, and then allow another 18 months for the bone to fully harden.
Where it gets trickier is with the connective tissues structure of cartilage, tendons and ligaments. Generally these structures have poor blood supply and rely on passive movement to move nutrients into the cells to facialte repair. Its when the repair rate of the tissue is slower the wear that degenerative changes often start to occur. The muscles heal quickly, the rest takes a lot longer, and when folks don’t allow that naturally healing process occur is when issue really start to raise their heads.
Pain and inflammation are signals from you body that there is something not right with hat area of the body. How the body interports the pain is rather complex, with most processing occurring in the central nervous system, the brain. The brain number one job is to protect the body, so if it senses danger to the system, often triggered by firing of mechanoreceptors in the joints, and specialised nerves (nociception) in the muscles, tendons, fascia and ligaments.
What triggers these nerve fiber pain response has been the subject of intensive study, and what we are learning is that often the pain we experience, particular if longer than 6 weeks, don’t always add up to what’s anatomically, or structurally damaged.
For example we could get an MRI study of 10 peoples lower backs that all showed disc herniations of the same type and location. But each person would have a very different response to how it feels. Some may be in a pretty bad way, experiencing lots of pain, others may feel discomfort but nothing drastic, where others may not even have been aware there was a problem.
Pain is a unique experience to the individual, just because your friend had a dodgy knee from running, does not mean you will. There are simply too many variables to consider when working with pain.
Pain is often a protection mechanism, trying to avoid further injury to structures, which is why its very important to get the right advice, guidelines and structured exercise to teach the brain that its ok and safe to exercise, even if there ids still pain.
The brain is the ultimate learning machine, and if we can layer the appropriate stimuli the pain signals can be desensitized, meaning, movement that may have caused a pain response either no longer do, or are significantly reduced. Often folks with joint pain are afraid to move because either cause pain and they fear doing further damage. However as we know, decreasing physical activity will create inactivity loop which will weaken the joint, and thus increase forces going through it, further causing pain.
Inflammation is the reaction of the body to injury, or damage to tissues. If your joints are inflamed its either because it’s in the early stages of healing and repair, a totally normal process, or its chronic, and the body is responding to an unfavorable environment, this my be continually trigger pain receptors which makes the body thin kits still in the early phases of healing, or, as we are starting to understand inflammation is coming from somewhere in the system , and if manifesting in the joints as an autoimmune response.
So the two big causes of inflammation in joints is mechanical, or a auto immune response
Mechanical inflammation simply means that you keep creating micro injuries to the tissues and joint structures. This is either caused by the wrong type of rehab protocols, and exercises appropriate to your joint issue (too much, not enough, or poorly done), or, you keep doing something habitually that you may not be connecting to the joint problem. For example you may have a sore neck from working at a computer with the monitor setup at the wrong angle. The poor angle place you neck in an extended position for long periods of times which is triggering pain in your neck joints or muscle
Inflammation is very closely related to nutrition, with a lot of research highlighting the links between the gut biome and joint health which we will discuss in more detail int he next blog. Suffice to say, if your diet is rubbish, and you have joint pain, its going to be really hard to heal and repair simply because your body doesn’t have the right building blocks to repair tissues with. It would be like trying to put out a bush fire with a water pistol.
The key habit of healthy joints is to dig deeper into what is actually causing your pain, why is there, what is it that you are doing in your day to day life that is predisposing pain and inflammation in your body, in most instances there’s usually something that’s causing the pain
Working with an Exercise Physiologist can help you work out your pain triggers, and develop strategies on how to turn down those pain signals, decrease inflammation and start you on the path to join health and longevity.