What is Reflex Pain?
The body’s pain withdrawal reflex is an involuntary action or chain of actions that the body executes in order to remove the body part away from whatever has just caused the pain, or to try to eliminate the pain completely. According to research, the body can complete an involuntary reflex of this nature in less than 0.5 seconds.
Injuries or conditions affecting other body parts — for example, headaches, sprains or damage to extremities — may also initiate a pain withdrawal reflex. Sometimes, however, the condition results in an abnormal reflex, which leads to reflex pain.
Consider a sprained ankle. The body’s response will be to try to guard itself from further injury, commanding the reflex muscles in that area of the ankle to tighten and “splint,” or protect, that body part. To the individual, this feels like a muscle spasm, although the sensations will subside and disappear after a short while.
However, if the ankle takes longer than it should to heal, the muscle remains in this reflex state of tightness and the body is forced to try to compensate for the functionality it has lost. Avoiding the painful movement or uncomfortable position of the injured ankle may now lead to secondary biomechanical problems which may be completely independent of the original sprain, such as leg pain, hip pain or back pain.
It is common for a situation like this to initiate a cycle of reflex pain in the body. As the body tries to compensate for an injury, secondary injuries develop and the pattern persists. It becomes necessary then to consult with a medical professional who can help the patient break the cycle and resolve the reflex pain.
Treatment usually includes an identification of the injured, painful and dysfunctional areas, as well as light palpitation of muscles to determine which muscles are involved and which may still be tight or suffering from spasms. A comprehensive physical therapy plan is usually then devised, which will rebalance the body’s muscle movements, reteaching them to contract and relax normally.