What is persistent pain?

Physical Therapy, Exercise, Pain Management, Muscle Pain, Joint Pain


Physical therapist working a man lifting weights

Pain. Everyone has experienced the uncomfortable feeling that signals something is wrong.

But people do not experience pain the same way. A person suffering from a broken bone will describe pain much differently than someone suffering a migraine headache. Sometimes pain is an inconvenience, at other times it is so severe it knocks you off your feet.

We know what pain feels like, but what is it?

In short, pain is your body’s alarm system.

Pain is normal. It’s our body’s way of telling us there is something wrong or dangers are present.

Just think about what happens when you step on a nail. The sharpness of the nail triggers the nerve endings in your foot to send a message through your spinal cord to your brain.

When your brain receives the message, it produces pain. This split-second reaction causes you to move your foot and protect it from further injury.

Pain reflex arcThe 400 nerves in your body’s defensive warning system protect you from getting burned by a hot stove, walking on a broken leg, or continuing to play tennis with a sprained elbow.

Listening to your brain's pain signals can help prevent an injury from getting worse.

Pain caused by illness or injury is usually temporary.

As long as the body senses tissue damage, it will continue to send pain signals to protect the area as it heals. Normally, the level of pain response subsides as the tissues return to health. In most cases, this takes 3 to 6 months.

But sometimes the nervous system stays extra-sensitive even after the body injury or tissue damage heals. A hyper-sensitive nervous system is always on alert, causing persistent pain.

Persistent pain can affect many areas of life including a loss of independence, emotional changes such as irritability, anger, depression, and feelings of hopelessness, isolation, and sometimes job loss.

But if my tissues are healed, is the pain I feel real?

Yes. All pain is real.

Pain is complex and is an individual experience. Pain from an overactive nervous system feels as uncomfortable as the pain from a wound, arthritis, or surgery.

According to the International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP), the definition of pain is, “an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage or described in terms of such damage.”

You are not alone. According to the latest information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over 20 percent or 50 million adults in the United States suffer from chronic pain. (Dahlhamer J, Lucas J, Zelaya C, Nahin R, Mackey S, DeBar L, Kerns R, Von Korff M, Porter L, Helmick C. Prevalence of chronic pain and high impact chronic pain among adults—United States, 2016. MMWR. 2018; 67(36):1001-6.)

But you don’t have to live with persistent pain.

Living in pain is not normal. You do not have to let pain drive your life. Bone & Joint’s physical therapy department can help you make pain a back-seat passenger.

Bone & Joint’s physical therapists and pain management specialists can help you learn how to decrease the sensitivity of your nervous system which will reduce your pain.

Caitlyn Van Der Geest, DPT, a therapeutic pain specialistMeet Caitlyn Van Der Geest, DPT, a therapeutic pain specialist

Caitlyn Van Der Geest, DPT, a Doctor of Physical Therapy, has been working with patients with persistent pain for many years.

She is a graduate of the International Spine and Pain Institute’s Therapeutic Pain Specialist program. Caitlyn’s certification gives her the knowledge and skills to help her patients learn how to manage and reduce their pain. 

“Persistent pain affects people on so many levels they often find themselves unable to do daily tasks,” said Caitlyn. “Physical therapy can help patients and empower them to improve their quality of life.”

Caitlyn works with patients in Plover and Wausau. Request an appointment online or call 800-445-6442, today.


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