Chronic Pain and Chiropractic
Updated: Aug 2
Chiropractic adjustments have been shown to provide noticeable improvements in spinal function and reduce both acute and chronic pain. However, the mechanisms responsible for this relief of pain have not been well explained.
Acute pain is often described as being “more useful” as it allows us to identify the current threat or injury and investigate it. The less useful chronic pain may be due to the brains false perception of being under threat and is an over stimulation to a stressor that exists beyond being helpful. This has major effects on our body and can lead to symptoms such as depression, fatigue and altered immunity.
The nervous system is like plastic – it can change its shape and function to different stimuli. This plays a vital role in maturity, developing, learning and repair. But this also implies that when a pathway in the nervous system is fired upon repetitively, the presynaptic pathway in the nervous system will develop more axonal and dendritic sprouts, synaptic connections and neurological cell numbers, resulting in an increased firing of specific channels and pathways – IT WILL GROW LARGER.
I often describe this process to my chronic pain patients as it makes so much sense! Refer to the sensory and motor homunculus below. Notice the size variety of body parts on the brain. This represents the amount of stimulation received or given to that part. This is “plastic.” This adapts according to its use and sensation. Do you have chronic leg pain which results in you not walking as often? It is likely that your “map” looks a little different to someone who is pain free and mobile. Good news – your “map” can be largely changed through bodily awareness, movement and chiropractic care.
Haavik, Niazi, Holt and Murphy (2017) published an incredibly interesting article, where they investigated whether chiropractic care can induce changes in central nervous system functioning.
They conducted a study on six patients who had a history of either neck or upper limb pain by utilizing the dual somatosensory evoked potential (SEP) technique. The SEP technique measures the cortical response at the postcentral gyrus (where your sensory homunculus is located) to an electrical stimulus at a nerve in the forearm. This process demonstrates the integrity of the sensory pathways of the spinal cord.
These patients received chiropractic care over twelve weeks. Three times a week for the first three weeks, and later the frequency of treatments was reduced according to the patients’ presenting symptoms. The chiropractic treatments consisted of spinal manipulation and one or more of the following: exercises, extremity adjustments, pain education and soft tissue therapy.
The researchers concluded that chiropractic care may improve the suppression of peripheral afferent input to the brain, therefore improving sensorimotor integration in the brain motor areas and improving processing of motor pathways – PROVIDE RELIEF OF CHRONIC PAIN.
In the words of Dr Monique Andrews, “When you adjust the spine you change the brain. You change someone’s brain, and you change their life.”