What is chronic pain?
This seems like it would be the easiest question to answer, but even in the medical community this answer is tricky. If we break it down, chronic means persisting for a long time or constantly recurring. For example: I struggle with back pain. Thankfully, at this point, I manage it medically with steroid injections and I only have a really bad flair up about once a year. This is still chronic pain.
Pain is even more complicated. Pain is a noxious stimulus that is conducted by peripheral nerves and then perceived by the brain. Most people know that if you place your hand on a hot stove this will illicit pain. In pain’s normal form, it is actually a good thing. It protects us (I bet you don’t put your hand on the stove again, or in my family’s case, in which my sister burned her arm on a hot oven door as a child, that little Gretel never did that again!). Pain also controls us after a surgery to protect the injury and not overdo it. However, as in all complicated things, sometimes this protective mechanism goes haywire. Suddenly pain occurs when there is not injury or that injury has already healed. People who have severe neuropathic pain can’t even handle a sheet to be placed on the painful area. This is NOT a normal, protective response. This is the pain we want to attack.
The best way I can describe this chronic pain cycle is think of a dirt road. Initially, that dirt road is slippery with loose gravel. Imagine this is a normal functioning nerve. You can get from point A to point B although it isn’t easy. Make sense? Okay. Now let’s say this is your way home from work and you’ve been driving it for a while. The loose gravel has slid away and you can really put the pedal to the medal. This is pain following a surgery (for example), it is expected and those pain fibers are fired up and it is (unfortunately) easy for that signal to get to your brain because it just hurts! Next step, now the road is so well traveled that there are deep ruts, in fact, you can’t even drive outside those ruts because you are pretty much stuck. Staying in those specific ruts are now the easiest path home. This is chronic pain. Your nerves get so used to that same painful path that now non-painful stimuli are going to take the rutted painful route because it’s easier. Isn’t that a bunch of bologna? And often, this is where people get stuck. My kids actually named a road “Mommy stuck road” because we actually did get stuck in ruts on a non-fictional road… but I digress…
I know that is probably clear as mud but the point of this blog post is to explain that chronic pain is really hard to treat because the nervous system is basically giving you the finger. It has gone rogue. What the science is showing is ketamine infusions are remapping the nervous system, almost like a grader to that road (now I am talking about big machinery which I know nothing about). It makes the road (or your pain) protective again instead of life-consuming. It will not fix a bulging disc, BUT if that bulging disc has been surgically removed or calmed down by other methods and the pain is still occurring THEN ketamine infusions can help get that pain under control. Ketamine will NOT cure your diabetes BUT it can allow you to put a sheet on your legs without jumping out the window.
So, when pain is no longer protecting you but holding you back from life it is time to give us a call. Take care of yourself!