The anatomical source of most chronic pain conditions remains contentious. Allopathic medicine has taken the stand that most chronic pain is neuropathic. This implicates the sensory nervous system as the prime instigator of pain, often for no apparent reason. At the same time, most of our treatment programs focus on muscle movement, tone and stretching.
My assessment of the recorded science available and the patients who I see on a daily basis points me in the direction of muscle as the cause and source of most of the pain with a neuropathic overlay that has a strong and important evolutionary origin.
My Concept of Muscle Pain.
In my evolving understanding of chronic pain, I believe that muscle pain is the most likely source of pain in patients diagnosed with a chronic pain condition of any kind. The pain nerves that are considered to have “gone awry” are actually crucial for life and without them we would not live long. Strange and incomprehensible as is sounds, I believe that that hateful pain really is providing knowledge about our muscles that, in normal daily living, is vital to survival.
Here is my understanding of muscle pain, as yet unpublished, but well tested in my clinic and well supported by science.
All muscles – including skeletal, heart and smooth muscles such as in the gut – are wired with nerve endings called vanilloid receptors that measure hydrogen ion concentrations. Hydrogen ions are the acid that is produced by living cells and must be cleared in order to stay alive. Hydrogen ions are removed by blood flow. They are transported to 1) the lung, where they are breathed out as carbon dioxide after being combined with nature’s acid buffer, bicarbonate (aka baking soda), or to 2) the kidney where they are excreted in urine. Students of the life sciences know this as acid-base balance, an elegant and complex system vital to life.
Therefore, monitoring the hydrogen level (acidity) in muscle is really telling the brain how well blood flow is keeping up with acid production in our muscles. In essence, these nerves serve as a continuous real-time blood flow monitoring system in every muscle in the body, every second of our lives, from the time those muscles are formed in the womb.
Unlike other organs such as the heart and brain, which are carefully protected inside our boney skeleton, muscle blood flow is easily interrupted when the muscle is contracted or compressed. Either way, the blood vessels in contracted or compressed muscle are themselves compressed. If the pressure is high enough the vessels will be closed and blood flow ceases. If this is sustained for even a few hours, that muscle will die unless blood flow is re-established. This is what keeps us moving, changing position and trying to stay comfortable, even in a deep sleep.
Staying comfortable is all about maintaining blood flow in our muscles.
What is Neuropathic Pain?
If these life-saving signals are ignored and we do not change something to get blood flowing again, the pain signal is amplified by the spinal cord and connections are made to other parts of the nervous system to get our attention. That is why muscle pain is hard to ignore and even more difficult to sleep through. This is when the nervous system gets involved to help. This is when pain becomes neuropathic!
So, how does such a highly evolved, elegant and complex monitoring system go so wrong and in so many of us? In short, I believe it does not go wrong. It is doing exactly what it is supposed to do – even the neuropathic part when the nervous system gets involved. To find the answer we have to look at muscle physiology (function) in a lot more depth. For the sake of brevity on this website I am going to simplify things a bit.