One under-diagnosed cause of chronic pain is abnormalities of the spine. We perhaps shouldn't be surprised that problems with the backbone affect other areas of the body, seeing as it is the central support mechanism of our skeleton and is involved in every movement we make; it is also the central mechanical point of transmission for pain signals to reach the brain. So problems in the spine can translate directly to surrounding muscle, tissue and, more seriously, organs; and we feel the result of this as pain.
Chronic pain is essentially any pain that lasts longer than a few weeks, gets gradually worse, and/or keeps coming back - such as arthritis or lower back pain; as opposed to the acute pain we experience from , say, a broken arm or a sprained wrist. Chronic pain is on the rise in Canada, with anywhere from 6 to 8 million people living with it (accurate statistics are hard to come by. Millions of prescriptions are written for all types of painkillers yearly, and assuming that doctors are not just writing prescriptions unnecessarily (sometimes a dangerous assumption to make) this would point to a very high level of chronic pain sufferers.
Quite apart from the problems of addiction, abuse, increased sensitization to pain and adverse incidents associated with these drugs, medicating a chronic problem only masks the symptoms and doesn't address the cause, the way chiropractic care and natural wellness would. The answers are nearly always found in our lifestyle choices - the usual suspects like diet and lack of exercise.
It is necessary to understand the nature of chronic pain a little more. While it is always long-lasting and may keep coming back, there are different types of chronic pain. The two most common types are:
Somatic pain - pain detected by receptors in the skin, muscles and joints that will be triggered by temperature, vibration and swelling. It is quite easy to pinpoint the area of pain. Arthritis and tension headaches are good examples.
Visceral pain - this is thought to be less common and it is the pain detected deeper in the body by the organs. It may feel like a dull pressure or an ache, and is harder to pinpoint e.g. irritable bowel syndrome and cystitis.
Sometimes there are only small differences between the types of pain, which make it difficult to diagnose the problem effectively unless you have access to advanced diagnostic technology. Research suggest than there is more than just a coincidental connection between spinal abnormality (functional or congenital), and both somatic and visceral problems. In fact there is a direct link between organ disease and spinal malformation (often called "dysrhaphism"). Malformation can occur at the embryonic stage and are therefore considered to be congenital (present from birth but not necessarily anything to do with genetics). It can be severe and cause spina bifida and paraplegia, or relatively minor, seemingly benign and cause no apparent lack of mobility.
One paper published in the Clinical Radiology journal almost 40 years ago, titled Vertebral malformations and associated somatic and visceral abnormalities, expanded on earlier studies from the 1960s. Study leader William L. Schey took a group of patients with congenital spine abnormalities and examined them for other congenital problems; he then took another group with known visceral malformations and examined them for spinal variations. The results showed a clear relationship:
"Those with congenital vertebral malformations had an extremely high rate of associated visceral abnormalities, especially of the heart and kidneys. Other relationships between the spine and viscera include congenital lesions of the gastrointestinal and respiratory system and other parts of the renal system."
Other conclusions that Schey reached included:
The level of the malformed vertebra(e) might help with identifying which organ could be affected
The exact nature of the vertebral malformation is not a strong indicator of the somatic-visceral problem that may be found. Thankfully serious congenital spinal malformations are quite rare. But many people experience spinal defects/abnormalities and their related problems throughout their lives due to car accidents, pregnancy and their lifestyle choices.
The above study was from a long time ago, but with the current health climate today we should be paying closer attention to what it, and other similar studies, tell us: poor spine health, structure, and alignment need to be corrected before they lead to other chronic problems that can severely impact one's life, or even be life-threatening. It is a warning to take note of your pain and start addressing the root causes rather than masking the symptoms with drugs. Chiropractic care is the best place to start as it is an all natural, non-surgical wellness path!