The Point of No Return: Pathological Protection

Your brain thinks your back and neck are important just like this chiropractor Little Falls MN does. I hope you’re starting to think so, too. When dysfunction has occurred in the spine, it is a dangerous situation—your nerves and spinal cord, essential components of staying alive, are at risk. When destruction sets in, the downward slope of the Vicious Cycle turns into a cliff, and the body enters into a free-fall of an ever-worsening condition. If this trend isn’t stopped, there comes a point when the back and neck have deteriorated so much that your brain takes matters into its own hands.

When the Point of No Return is crossed, your brain understands that your spine needs attention, and realizes that you’re either unwilling or unable to help it. This is an emergency, and the brain issues a “code red” alert, moving the back and neck into a phase of Pathological Protection—when the nerves, muscles, and joints start to protect themselves. It’s a particularly vicious step because these actions cannot be taken back.

Once you hit this point in the Vicious Cycle, it’s impossible to get your spine all the way back to being completely normal and healthy. That’s the bad news. The good news is that this doesn’t mean there is no hope for you. Hitting The Point of No Return does not mean you cannot live a life mostly free of pain. But it does means you have a lot of work ahead of you which is why we encourage you finding a chiropractor Little Falls MN. 

Pathological Protection: The Nerves

This is when we can actually start to feel the sensitization that the nerves have been going through. First, the back and neck develop “hyperalgesia” (definition: hyper = over, algesia = pain) which refers to an abnormally intense pain response induced by a painful stimulus. Example: when your grandson jumps on your back, you’re sore for the next three weeks. You knew it would hurt, but you didn’t think it would hurt that bad and for that long..

After that, the back and neck develop “allodynia,” which refers to pain that occurs in response to harmless stimuli. This is when something shouldn’t hurt, but does. In my practice as a chiropractor Little Falls MN, I have firsthand experience with these phenomena. I examine patients, and no matter where I touch their back, they nearly jump off the exam table in pain. I have patients tell me that simply brushing up against a wall or the slightest change in weather causes pain. (Keep in mind that both hyperalgesia and allodynia are driven by sensitization, which develops from constant nociceptive firing due to abnormal joint movement.)

Not only do the nerves become more sensitive to pain, but new nerves can grow into areas of damage, like disc and muscle. The process of new nerve growth in dysfunctional and damaged tissue is called “neoneuralization” (neo = new, neural = nerve, ization = “the process of”). When you combine this with allodynia, it creates a really sticky mess for people. Think about it. At this point, your body is creating more nerves that are able to feel more pain.

Those last three paragraphs are important, so take some time, and read them again as if you are a chiropractor Little Falls MN.

It’s true. Nerves become more sensitive to pain, and your body reacts by growing more nerves to stimulate more pain. What’s up with that? Isn’t that a bit masochistic? Why do the nerves start to feel more pain? Remember the purpose of pain? It’s a warning—and it’s for your protection. The nervous system starts to go down this path because if you do something that hurts, chances are you won’t do that something again. That’s how the nerves start to protect your back and neck.

I’m reminded of a patient who sought my care as a chiropractor Little Falls MN following a second failed spinal surgery. When she came in, she couldn’t stand for longer than five minutes without severe low-back pain. A side bend made her yelp in pain. The act of getting on the exam table and lying on her stomach brought her to tears. When I started to feel her back, assessing her muscle tone, she yelled in pain.

She was a mess.

Now this woman was one of the sweetest people I’ve ever met, and it broke my heart as her chiropractor Little Falls MN to see her in so much pain. I point this out because The Vicious Cycle doesn’t care who you are. It doesn’t care if you’re rich or poor; overweight or in good shape; famous or not well-known; young or old; or African American, Caucasian, Hispanic, or Asian. If a Buckling Point is created in your spine, this is what happens. Once the Tipping Point is crossed, it has to be thoroughly addressed, otherwise it gets worse. If it crosses the Point of No Return, permanent changes have occurred and it is considerably harder to become pain-free.

Be careful!

Pathological Protection: The Muscles

Although the muscles are atrophied and micro-tearing, they are still forced to do their job day in and day out. When you drive, for instance, you still have to turn your head to check your blind spot. You still have to carry in the groceries in from the car. You still have to bend over to pick up the dirty clothes that you, or more likely your kids, dropped on the floor. This never-ending use of broken-down muscle tissue interferes with its healing process. The atrophied muscles are trying to rebuild, and the micro-tears are trying to repair, but they can’t because the Vicious Cycle has brought them so far away from the environment they need for healing they have to take action to protect themselves.

 

In an optimal environment, like while receiving care from a chiropractor Little Falls MN, muscle heals muscle. In a suboptimal environment, scar tissue heals muscle.

When damaged muscles are caught in the Vicious Cycle, and they attempt to heal, scar tissue is laid down instead of new muscle fibers. 

Scar tissue is non-flexible, short, and is altogether different from normal muscle tissue—much like how a scar on the skin is different than the skin itself.

You might ask, “How does scar tissue protect me?” Well, scar tissue is actually tougher than muscle tissue. That’s why it’s laid down. It’s the body’s way to protect the muscles from further tearing. Unfortunately, there are many disadvantages to scar tissue.

1 Scar tissue doesn’t look like muscle. Muscle is nice, smooth, and organized. Scar tissue, on the other hand, is a gnarled entanglement of dead muscle fibers, cartilage, and nerves.

2 Scar tissue causes more pain. Unlike scar tissue found in skin, which has less pain-sensitive nerves, scar tissue in muscle has more pain-sensitive nerves, making it a possible source, all by itself, of significant pain. Not good news for pain sufferers.

3 Scar tissue spreads. It tethers to surrounding muscles, causing otherwise normal muscles to become dysfunctional, and continues to throw off your muscle balance.

4 Scar tissue causes less motion and loss of function. Loss of function results in that tissue, whether it’s neck, back, shoulder, or knee, getting weaker and eventually re-aggravated—more often than not—by normal, everyday use.

While this may seem new to you, you’ve actually known about muscle scar tissue for quite some time, but by a different name: muscle knots. Scar tissue is what causes muscles to “knot up.” In fact, go ahead and feel the knots at the base of your neck, by your shoulders. Think those are normal? Harmless? There for no reason? Ha! What you’re feeling is overworked, under-rested, out-of-balance, scar-tissue-ridden muscles. Since we’re on the topic, muscles do not simply develop “knots” out of the blue. People often say this, and you’ve probably said it yourself: “I have knots in my shoulders.” “I have knots in my low back.” And so on. What’s actually happening is that scar tissue is tethering to the surrounding muscle, causing it to knot up.

I hope you understand why it makes me, a chiropractor Little Falls MN, shudder when people nonchalantly say, “I always have knots there.” They don’t know that so much has had to go wrong in order for those “knots” to form.

Pathological Protection: The Joints

Up to this point, the weakened cartilage and bone have been getting damaged because they have been forced to keep you moving even though they don’t have the ability to withstand the stress that comes with it. In response to this, changes occur within the cartilage and bone that stop the joint from being able to move because if the joint can’t move, then movement can’t hurt the joint. That makes sense, doesn’t it? The only problem is that your level of activity is determined by your level of mobility, so if your joints move less, you move less, and if you move less, you do less.

 Here are some of the changes that take place:

The intervertebral disc: as it breaks down, it goes from being soft and squishy to tough and inflexible. It goes from basically being a shock-absorbing water balloon to a rough leathery sack.

The bone (i.e., vertebrae): the parts that were under friction in the last phase now react by laying down new, thicker bone—kind of like scar tissue to muscle.

Trouble is, the body doesn’t lay down just enough to replace what was lost. Not a chance.  The body adds layer upon layer of bone, causing the once nicely square vertebrae to develop jagged, gargoyle-looking bone spurs. Not only that, but this outgrowing of bone can lead to the narrowing of the little holes through which the spinal nerves exit, causing a condition called foraminal stenosis. It can get so severe that the spinal canal which houses the spinal cord will start to narrow—a condition called spinal stenosis.

Why does the body do this? How does a bone spur protect your spine? Bone spurs, in fact, do two things: first, they stabilize the joint, and second, they increase the surface area available to the disc, thereby making it more resilient and stable. This is good until you realize what you’re sacrificing once again, mobility, and your ability to do what you want.

I hope you now understand why as a chiropractor Little Falls MN I almost fell off my chair when a patient casually mentions she’s been told she has arthritis and some bone spurring, and there’s really nothing that can be done. Remember, “It’s normal,” and “simply a part of aging,” Right? WRONG! It has very little to do with “aging,” and nearly everything to do with how deep into the Vicious Cycle you’ve traveled.

Keep this in mind. If you are ever shown an X-ray of your spine, and the doctor points at the image and says, “That’s arthritis,” or “That’s regenerative joint disease,” or “That’s a bone spur,” immediately look at the other joints and see if all of them have the exact same amount of arthritis, degeneration, or spurring. Chances are you’ll see a joint that looks fine, like there’s nothing wrong with it. If that’s the case, do yourself a huge favor and ask the doctor, “Why is that area more broken down than the other area?” If he blows off your question with an answer like “aging,” or “that’s how it goes,” or if they don’t give you a clear answer that makes sense to you based on what you now understand of the Vicious Cycle, consider getting a second opinion from a chiropractor Little Falls MN.

If the doctor can’t explain the difference to you, they don’t have the right kind of knowledge to get you better.

The Bottomless Pit

Ignorance is not bliss. What you don’t know about your body will hurt you. This is the reason why this part of the Vicious Cycle is called the “Point of No Return” is that once you’ve gone this far, you can’t make it all the way back. The brain has been forced to take command and, unfortunately, that means permanent changes. Once a bone spur is formed, it’s there to stay. Once a certain amount of scar tissue has developed, it cannot be totally extricated. Once the nerves are so sensitized that you feel pain from normal touch, they can’t be totally desensitized. All of these things rob you of your mobility, activity level, and quality of life, and will lead you further and further down the Vicious Cycle and eventually into more and more pain.

         The good news is that by applying The Solution, you will be able to show your brain that not only do you care, but you know how to care for your spine. This is the first and most important step to break the Vicious Cycle and rid yourself of pain once and for all.

We don’t promise a cure or claim to be superior, we simply like to believe that our clinic is built on helping people feel better. This content is written for Chiro Plus Rehab by a third party. The information in this post is provided for general informational purposes only, and does not constitute medical advice. No information contained in this post should be construed as medical advice from Chiro Plus Rehab, or the individual author, nor is it intended to be a substitute for any opinion of a trained medical professional. No reader of this post should act or refrain from acting on the basis of any information included in, or accessible through, this post without seeking the appropriate medical advice on the particular facts and circumstances at issue from a medical professional. The choice of a chiropractor or other medical professional is an important decision and should not be based solely upon advertisements or this post. The opinions expressed in this post are the opinions of the individual author and may not reflect the opinions of Chiro Plus Rehab or Dr. Ben Grams.