The Difference Between Mechanical and Chemical Pain
After determining whether your pain is acute or chronic, you’d then want to proceed by classifying your pain as either mechanical or chemical or both.
Mechanical pain is pain that is connected to how you move or the position of your body. For instance, if you try to bend your finger all the way back as far as you can go, you’ll likely experience mechanical pain.
And when you release your finger, that mechanical pain will change or diminish. This happens because of mechanical stress that is placed on tissue by forces like bending it too far forward or backward; creating an uncomfortable feeling where there is no actual damage, but painful.
Mechanical pain can be acute, as with bending your finger and releasing it right away, or it can be chronic where the pain doesn’t change once you release your finger.
An example of chronic mechanical pain could be low back pain because of poor posture, resulting in ligaments, tendons and muscles becoming deranged. This type of chronic mechanical pain will certainly take longer to correct than acute mechanical pain.
Examples of mechanical injuries include:
- Herniated Discs
- Meniscal tears or labral tears
- Scar tissue or adhesions
- Muscle, ligament and tendon injuries
- Pain produced from abnormal posture and alignment
All that said, specific movements or exercises that change your pain are a good sign that your pain is mechanical. Pain that doesn’t change from specific movements or exercises is likely chemical.
Chemical pain differs from mechanical pain in that is comprises inflammatory chemicals rather than the damage to tissues itself.
Chemical pain is very complex and usually follows an acute injury. Chemical pain occurs as a side effect of the immune system’s response in coming to the rescue. If you’ve ever stubbed your toe, sprained your ankle or cut your finger, you’ve experienced chemical pain.
We describe chemical pain as constant throbbing with no change associated with movement. If your pain comes and goes, shifts sides or moves around, it’s likely not chemical. However, there’s absolutely a chance that you could have mechanical and chemical pain at the same time.
The presentation of chemical pain is deeply rooted in inflammation and immune function.
When someone herniates a spinal disc or injures the disc, inflammation will immediately surround all the ligaments, tendons, muscles, joints and nerves. Ironically, most disc injuries are mechanical and the way towards addressing them is mechanical.
But when you have pain that is both mechanical and chemical, you may not experience relief right away because those chemical factors are still present.