Written by Dr. Matthew Alvord DC, DPhCS
There is a girl from Minnesota who can’t feel pain, no matter how hard she tries. Gabby Gingras doesn’t even know what it feels like. She would love to experience pain and her family and friends would want that for her too. Her life has been awfully difficult without it, as well as everyone else around her.
When she was born, her parents didn’t have a clue that anything was wrong. If they were looking for symptoms, how could they? Their first indication that anything was off was when Gabby was teething so hard that her fingers bleed and they looked like raw hamburger. Her father said, “she chewed on her tongue like it was bubble gum”.
Without pain, Gabby scratched one of her corneas so badly that they had to stitch her eyelid closed to try to save it. She then managed to rip the stitches open anyway, resulting in a bad infection that required the eye to be removed. She would eventually get used to wearing safety goggles during the day and swimming goggles at night to protect the one eye she had left.
As it turned out, Gabby has a rare genetic condition that results in undeveloped sensory nerves. Only about 60 people are known to have the condition world-wide, and the complications from the inability to feel pain shortens their lifespan. It also complicates their entire lives in the meantime.
As a child, any sharp edges in her house had to be cushioned because Gabby didn’t have the feedback that prevented her from hitting them. She also needs a personal attendant just to monitor and anticipate anything that could result in the kind of injury the rest of us avoid every day.
Along with other things that people who CAN feel don’t even think about, people with this condition tend to develop bed sores because they don’t naturally turn at night. Their systems don’t recognize the subconscious discomfort we aren’t even aware of when we are sleeping. When asked on the Oprah Winfrey Show if there was anything Gabby’s mother wanted to say about her daughter’s story, she simply said, “Pain is a gift.” And most Chiropractors want to treat it.
As it turns out, the very thing so many people spend criticizing and treating is the very thing that allows us to relate to ourselves and our environment. Pain effectively slows us down so we can heal and it prevents us from hurting ourselves further. It is not only one of the five cardinal signs of inflammation, it could be considered a cardinal sign of life.
Treating pain is like disconnecting an oil light without changing the oil. If the auto mechanic did that, we would probably call the better business bureau. The oil light is there for a reason and the worker at the Ford plant would be fired if they didn’t connect it in the first place. Instead, people who don’t understand the proper relationship to pain will thank the pain therapists on the way out and won’t return until it comes back again to treat the same effects.
I remind people that they are allowed to feel whatever they want. Pain is essential feedback from their own unique experience. If someone steps on your foot, how should that feel? If it hurts, you will feel worse than someone who has numbness, yet you are actually functioning better than they are.
The illusion of the allure of pain relief is that it can be controlled. Big, fancy pain clinics often put ornate facades in their entry way try to instill confidence that people are going to feel better. In reality, they are lying to a good fraction of their client and they don’t even know which ones.
A client once presented with numerous complaints. After educating him about what we do and what we don’t do, he decided to begin care. Within a few weeks, he reported that he was feeling much better everywhere except for one particular spot in his midback. When he asked me to “adjust” there, I gently reminded him that chiropractic honors everything the body does.
Over the next month or so when the pain didn’t change, he decided to see his medical doctor. They discovered that it was referral pain from a kidney stone. The next time he was in, I asked him what would have happened if my goal was to get rid of his pain and I succeeded at it? Would he have been more or less likely to follow up with that other cause in his life? Exactly.
Pain is normal and natural, based on the specific adaptations required by the body at a specific time. Normal sensation in chiropractic means expression without interference. Welcome the sensation, whatever it is, both as someone laying on an adjusting table and as someone standing over a table. Pain is there to serve you while it is present and it will remain as long as it is required by the body.
Pain is truly a gift.