Why do I have so much pain?!

… I didn’t even really DO anything!?

I hear these types of things every day, and I have a theory about our pain.

I tell my patients, and anyone else who will listen, that I think of our bodies as buckets.  We are born ’empty’ buckets and every time we fall out of a tree, trip off a curb, get in a fender bender, walk into a closed door (come on… I’m not the only one!!)… every time these things happen we get drops in our bucket.  By the time we hit 30, maybe younger if we happen to be daredevils or particularly clumsy, our bucket is getting pretty full.

You know that little meniscus you see over a glass… that’s our pain.  That’s 30.

We can lose weight, start stretching, go to physio and we can get ourselves below the lip of the bucket and feeling pretty close to ‘normal’.  The very next time we do something, no matter how small… it could be vacuuming or raking leaves, or lifting a box, and it can refill the bucket if we move slightly incorrectly.

I had a patient once who was so frustrated, and I don’t blame him, but he could hardly stand or walk when he got to my office.  The culprit manoever… bending over to throw away a tissue.  It doesn’t need to be anything magnificent for us to start feeling pain again.

I think this is why we all feel invincible when we are young, too!  The top of that bucket is so far away when you are 17 – nothing can hurt you!!

…but WHY does pain and restricted movement get worse?!

Inflammation (as a result of soft tissue injury*)

When soft tissue injury occurs, white bloods cells called Neutrophils are the first to arrive and they summon other  immune cells by widening blood vessels to allow the area to be flooded with extracellular fluid.  The fluid contains Monocytes, which mature into Macrophages (big eaters) that remove the damaged cells and metabolites from the area.  While this is going on we see the ‘cardinal signs of inflammation’:

  • heat (calor)
  • redness (rubor)
  • swelling (tumor)
  • pain (dolor) – when the area is inflamed there is pressure on surrounding tissues, including pain receptors – nociceptors.

*there are other instances of inflammatory processes that can go on in our bodies that don’t originate with injury.  Some examples include:

  • Asthma
  • Colitis and Crohn’s Disease
  • Arthritis


This is really a result of your body trying to protect you from further injury.  Let’s take the fellow who was tossing away his tissue as an example.  He bent over and felt a ‘tweak’ in his back.  It was severe enough for him to discontinue activity.  He tried to take things easy for a few days but things seemed to get progressively worse!  Things seemed to be getting tighter!  He couldn’t sit comfortably, or even tie his shoes!

When the injury occurred the body recognized that an area was in danger – a muscle tear was about to occur, or a facet joint was about to ‘go out’ – sensing this, the surrounding muscles contracted/tightened up to prevent further injury (a protective muscle spasm).  The constant state of contraction causes decreased blood flow to the area – ischemia.  The lack of circulation and tight muscle, over a period of time, causes the retention of metabolites, an increase in toxins, the muscle to shorten and to restrict movement even more.

A reactive spasm ‘should’ resolve on it’s own, when the threat to the area is removed, but that doesn’t always occur.

Stress, Pain and Cold can propagate this process and create a pain spasm cycle.   Any of these can cause reactive tightening/protection and consequently, further reduction in blood flow and a chronic pain situation.

It doesn’t mean you are destined to live a life of pain.  There ARE things we can do that bring us below the lip of the bucket again, the key is to do them regularly, and to look at the things in our life that we may do to aggravate our bodies… and modify them.

The good new is that massage, when provided by a Registered Massage Therapist, is an evidence based treatment that has proven effective in breaking the pain spasm cycle.  The utilization of appropriate techniques will result in increasing blood flow, decreasing muscle tightness and aiding in the elimination of inflammatory cellular waste – metabolites/toxins.   All of this brings about normal muscle function, range of motion and strength.

As we age, it becomes more and more important to be proactive in our health.  We need to  arrange our environments to be less aggravating and be consistent in doing things that keep your pain level low.  Keep the aggravating factors at bay.

Reduce Stress!!
Prevent Injury!!

If you need specific advice, I’m here to help!

Come On Get Happy!

Happiness is in our hearts, our heads and ultimately… in our control. It is driven by chemicals in our body.  One of them is Dopamine …so that is where we will start.


Outside the CNS (Central Nervous System) dopamine acts as a chemical messenger.  It is a vasodilator in blood vessels, reduces insulin production in the pancreas and in the kidneys, it helps to increase excretion of sodium in the urine.

Dopamine, in the brain,  is a neurotransmitter. The brain contains several specific dopamine pathways, one of which plays a huge part in reward-motivated behaviour and pleasure – happiness.

Most types of rewards cause an increase in dopamine levels – new experiences, and accomplishments for example.  Dopamine plays many other important roles in the body and brain, including movement, memory, sleep and mood.   It increases attention, cognition, stimulates our creativity and makes us more social and can even help us to form parental or romantic bonds.  Many types of pleasurable experiences, such as sex, enjoying food, or playing video games, increase dopamine release.

We all want/crave these things, and unfortunately, when people seek out artificial sources, it can lead to addictions.  Opiate drugs (morphine, heroine) increase dopamine concentrations directly or indirectly, also creating the pleasurable liking/wanting expressions, and consequently addiction.

Dopamine deficiency effects people in many ways.  Can you relate to anything in the following list?  Do you…

  • feel depressed, bored, apathetic?
  • have a decrease in physical and mental energy?
  • find yourself tired a lot? Do you have to push yourself?
  • have decreased motivation or drive?
  • have difficulty focusing or concentrating?
  • a decreased sex-drive?
  • put on weight easily?
  • find yourself easily chilled?  Have cold hands/feet?

What Now?

All is not lost.  You don’t have to resort to addictions, friends!  There are a number of natural ways you can increase your dopamine production by modifying, changing or increasing things in your diet and lifestyle.


Make the most of today – you can do something new and exciting! Firsts are always exhilarating.  We’ve all seen inspirational quotes like:

Live each day like it’s your last; If you want something you’ve never had, do something you’ve never done; Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.

You see where I’m going with this.  Do it.

Increase your exercise – it decreases your stress.  It doesn’t have to be a lot.  Climb some stairs, walk the dog …just move.

Write down your small tasks – break down the large jobs you need to tackle into smaller ones for more frequent dopamine ‘hits’.  Not going to lie, I will sometimes write something on my to do list that I have already done just so I can cross it off and feel better! It’s satisfying …tell me I’m not alone.

Listen to Music – You know when you are feeling down, or tired and your favorite songs come on… you all of a sudden have the energy to sing along or dance; that’s the increased dopamine in action!  Browse the internet for music you love – but limit the time you spend there.  Research has proven that the internet can be addicting and that’s not how we want to do this.

Diet + Supplements

There are certain Amino Acids (precursors), enzymes, and (micronutrients) vitamins and minerals required for successful production of Dopamine.  Increasing these  will mean increasing the ability to create the neurotransmitter.

Tyrosine,  Phenylalanine and DOPA (dihydroxiphenylalanine) are amino acids involved in the production of Dopamine. Phenylalanine is an essential amino acid, meaning it can not be produces within our bodies and needs to come from your diet or as a supplement. Phenylalanine is converted to Tyrosine in our bodies.  Tyrosine is non-essential, which is a bit of a misnomer because it fills an essential role, but can be synthesized in your body.  It is also found in certain foods and supplements.  Tyrosine is converted to L-Dopa.  DOPA is biosynthesized in the liver from Tyrosine during the production of epinephrine and melanin. Its L isomer then travels across the blood brain barrier to be converted into dopamine inside the brain. L-Dopa or levadopa can be manufactured in laboratories and is commonly used to treat Parkinson’s disease and other conditions associated with low dopamine.

Foods loaded with Phenylalanine include:

  • Soy and Soy products
  • Cheese – especially parmesan
  • Nuts and Seeds – especially pumpkin
  • Lean Beef
  • Chicken and Turkey
  • Lean Pork
  • Fish and Seafood
  • Eggs and Dairy
  • Beans and Lentils
  • Whole Grains


Foods loaded with Tyrosine include:

  • Almonds
  • Avocados
  • Bananas
  • Beef
  • Chicken
  • Chocolate
  • Coffee
  • Eggs
  • Green Tea
  • Milk
  • Watermelon
  • Yogurt

Dopamine enhancing supplements.  These help with production, retention and reuptake.

  • Acetyl-l-tyrosine is a production-ready version of Tyrosine which will make it easier for your brain to create dopamine;
  • L-Curcumin – an ingredient in turmeric, helps increase levels of dopamine;
  • Ginkgo Biloba is a popular wonder drug may help increase dopamine levels by making it stay in your brain longer;
  • L-Dopa – as mentioned above, it is converted from Tyrosine, but it can be found in concentrated amounts in the Velvet Bean, but also in smaller amounts in broad beans and fava beans.
  • L-theanine increases neurotransmitter production in your brain, one of which is dopamine.  This one is found in Green Tea!

Alcohol, excess caffeine and sugar as well as stress will decrease available dopamine.  So, along with doing things to increase your dopamine levels, you will want to limit other things, as well, to regain balance… and happiness.

I am able to help with supplements and diet advice.  If you feel that increasing dopamine is essential for you to find your healthy place, leave a comment or Say Hello!