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Joint Pain: How Does the Body Handle It?

Written by OmegaXL on May 12, 2014

Our bodies are resilient. They’re (hopefully) lean, mean, fighting machines, and they live by Darwin’s “Survival of the Fittest” mantra. With that said, we all inevitably get injured or have pain at some point or another, and our bodies learn to deal with acute pain, chronic pain, and eventually, hopefully, make it go away. In this article, I’ll give you a brief overview of the physiology behind how your body handles pain, specifically pain related to your joints.

There are a few things to consider first and foremost when discussing joint pain: joint pain can be caused by many types of injuries or conditions. No matter what causes it, joint pain can be very bothersome, especially if it’s caused by an overuse injury. Joint pain can range from something like an autoimmune condition that causes stiffness and pain in the joints, to something involving growth of bone spurs and degeneration of cartilage at a joint. This particular condition is common in adults older than 45 and can cause joint pain. Joint pain may also be caused by inflammation of the bursae. The bursae are fluid-filled sacs that cushion and pad bony prominences, allowing muscles and tendons to move freely over the bone.

Now that you have an idea of types of conditions that can negatively affect joint, we can discuss ways the body deals with the pain. The primary method is called “The Inflammatory Response”. This will be discussed in a separate article dedicated exclusively to the subject. A secondary mechanism of action is the Trauma Reflex, also known as the cringing response triggered by injury. It is almost always asymmetrical because any given injury generally occurs to one side.

The trauma Reflex is not a momentary muscular action like the stretch (myostatic) reflex, but one that lasts at least as long as the pain of injury persists — and commonly much longer — up to decades.  When it lasts for decades, the injury has left such an impression on the brain that it displaces the healthy, familiar body image so that it’s as if the injury is always “happening right now” — along with the reflexive pulling away (muscular tightening). Asymmetrical muscle pulls place more stress on one joint than the other (obviously, given that they affect one side more than the other). This, in and of itself, can cause even more damage to the body.