Tuesday, 28 August 2018

Air Quality and Pain

If you're reading this from anywhere on the West Coast, you're likely aware of the smoke conditions we're experiencing due to the record-breaking forest fires. The amount of smoke and toxins in the air had BC pegged as having some of the worst air quality in the world!


Obviously, there have been the obvious health concerns of this occurrence, mostly in regards to asthmatics, COPD, and even cancer in the long term. However, is there a link between air quality and musculoskeletal pain as well?

I had a client this week who I've been treating for shoulder pain involving nerve entrapment between the shoulder and neck. After weeks of improvement, she came in on Monday frustrated over a severe relapse in her symptoms. The relapse began on Wednesday of last week with no apparent trigger.

I thought for a minute. In Victoria, I remembered Wednesday as being one of the peak days for smoke in the air.

So I doublechecked her intake form for health conditions. There it was: asthma! Upon questioning, we were able to come to the realization of how irritating the smoke has been for her, resulting in persistent coughing and tightness throughout her chest. Thus, reaggravation of the nearby structures regarding her injury and the return of her pain! With that in mind, we were able to treat appropriate and reassure my client that this relapse was temporary with no true set-backs; only speed-bumps.


This being said, this is a good lesson in how things such as air quality and smoke can be a cause for pain, even when it's not completely obvious. If we look at COPD patients, we can easily find a prevalence of upper back pain. I wasn't able to find statistics, but from here, it's not a difficult leap when considering similar effects that might plague individuals who live in areas that experience smog or industrial workers with regular exposure to toxic fumes.

Could there be links between air quality and pain that aren't purely mechanical as well, though? There isn't a ton of research on this subject, but we do have findings of air pollution having neuroinflammatory effects that, while are mostly looked at in relation to central nervous system disease, is likely transferable to neuropathic (chronic) pain as well. More specifically, airborne chemicals also are linked to neuropathy in painters and the exacerbation of neurogenic pain in smokers.


This information shouldn't be taken as something to scare you, but hopefully it makes everyone think and be cautious. Whether it's your outdoor environment, your job, or another type of exposure, protect yourself and save yourself some pain! Hopefully this forest fire issue will resolve soon, cigarette smokers can clue in and change their habits, and for those in highly-polluted areas...I don't know, vote?

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