What is chronic/persistent pain?
Why is it that some pains last much longer than we expect them to? And why is it that if we have had a similar pain in the past which went away quickly is sticking around longer this time around? If we use the example of a muscle strain which we typically see muscle strains recovering in as little as 4-6 weeks, but when it lasts for 3-6 months why does it still hurt? Or why is it that when talking to two different people about their knee osteoarthritis, one has pain and limited with their activities while the other is reporting no pain and has no limitations?
Why is my pain lasting so long?
The short answer is there are numerous factors playing a role into how we experience pain and how long it can last. The longer answer is that our body/brain are very smart and very protective to keep us functioning. The brain and body use a lot of pathways to communicate to decide on the appropriate response to a stimulus (injury or event). The brain doesn’t want to waste time processing everything that happens to us so it creates shortcuts and calls on old memories, or things we’ve seen, how people have reacted to similar situations, or our expectations, stress levels, mental health, and mood. With this being said the brain decides to react to the stimulus or decides its not important enough to react.
So what does this mean?
In a sense this means that an injury that has caused pain and has recovered, may continue to persist due to our experiences and an ongoing fear avoidance to prevent ongoing pain. As we continue to build into that fear avoidance the body becomes more sensitive to pain and more restricted leading to longer recovery times. This is not to say that you should push through pain either though as that can also increase the bodies sensitivity. Discussing with a physiotherapist can help you find the right track back to your usual activities with graded exposure.There are also a few interesting cases out there that will further show how interesting the body is in reacting to different stimuli.
And if you prefer TED talks instead of reading you can google “why things hurt” with Lorimer Moseley