How to Treat Chronic Pain Using the Body Ecosystem Hierarchy

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Guest post by Dr. Perry Nickelston.

No system in the body ever works alone. Never gets injured alone. Never heals alone. Understanding that is fundamental when it comes to recovering from chronic pain and enhancing human performance. You cannot isolate one system as the underlying cause and expect a long-term successful outcome because everything works together. The body is one unit that doesn’t classify itself into separate parts. It’s easy to become lost in recovery and rehabilitation when we look for one thing to blame and one thing to fix. That strategy doesn’t work because that’s not how nature works.

When Conventional Treatment Doesn’t Work

What are you supposed to do if none of the treatments you try are not working? What are you supposed to do if all of your efforts to enhance performance stop bringing results? Author of Atomic Habits James Clear says,

“You don’t rise to the level of your goals, you fall to the level of your systems.”

Your body is made up of a number of systems, and you need a systematic approach to optimize them. If therapies that were supposed to help don’t, or they do for a while but issues keep returning, I know one thing: I’m not going to do what everybody else has done. If that’s what you needed, you wouldn’t be standing in front of me asking for help. Why would I keep offering the same things that obviously don’t work? My therapy devices and my hands are no more magical than someone else’s. What people see me for is how I think. How I look at the body and begin to put the puzzle pieces back together again. As you’ll learn, the order of the steps is just as important, if not more, than the steps themselves.

More often than not, I find out what’s “not right” with you when I simply sit back and listen to you tell me your life story. Because history matters. It matters a lot.

I created the Body Ecosystem Hierarchy (BEH) to help me develop my system of looking at the body based on your individual history. It’s a system that looks at the bigger picture of what your body is trying to communicate with all of the symptoms it keeps showing you. Symptoms are communication signals from your brain that you need to change something. That’s my definition of pain: Pain is a request for change. For my purposes, symptoms change how I assess each body. Instead of looking at the body for what’s wrong, I look at the body for what’s not right. It seems like a subtle difference but it’s not.

What is an ecosystem? A biological community of interacting organisms and their physical environment, a complex network, or interconnected system. That pretty much sums up your body. What is a hierarchy? A system in which things are ranked one above the other according to status or authority. When it comes to the body, all systems are important otherwise they wouldn’t exist. Nature never does anything without a reason even though it might not make sense to us.

That being said, some systems are more important than others. Importance is determined by a very simple question: How quickly will you die if something goes wrong with that system? The more important the system, the more the body compensates for and adapts from all of the other systems to protect your safety and survival.

The key to my system is we start at the bottom to ease the symptoms then move to the top and work our way into the middle to find the root cause. If we start at the site of the injury or pain and move up the hierarchy from there, it will take a lot more effort to work our way through the other systems. Though if we look to the brain early, it will be significantly easier to address the rest of the body. Decreasing stress is critical for healing because your body cannot heal while it is on the defensive.

The Body Ecosystem Hierarchy

The Body Ecosystem Hierarchy by Perry Nickelston

Let’s review the BEH one number at a time:

Notice what’s at the bottom of the hierarchy at number nine: The site of injury or pain. Naturally, we start here but pain only indicates there is a problem, it does not tell us what it is. Now, look at number one at the top of the hierarchy: The brain. Physical and emotional stress impacts the entire body. The leading cause of chronic disease is incessant stress, and the main nerve controlling that response is the Vagus nerve.

Number two is the lymphatic system. The most important yet most neglected system in the body for healing, regeneration, recovery, and performance. This is the body’s sewage system that eliminates bacteria, viruses, fungi, parasites, and metabolic waste. If this system is dysfunctional, problems will trickle all the way down to number nine. How do these problems reveal themselves? When you have pain and injury, you have swelling, inflammation, and cellular damage which create metabolic waste. Since the lymphatic system is in charge of eliminating that from the body, if it doesn’t work well, you’ll feel it. A fundamental principle of healing is to get rid of toxins in the body and then supply nutrients.

Number three is the gut, specifically the large and small intestines. The gut is also sometimes referred to as the second brain because it communicates with the brain primarily via the Vagus nerve. If you have a gut problem, you have a brain problem, and if you have a brain problem, you have a gut problem. They always go together. The first sign of most gut issues is brain fog. Chronic inflammation in the gut (aka leaky gut) is a primary contributor to chronic pain and chronic disease. Leaky gut leads to malabsorption syndrome which means that you’re not able to absorb nutrients. Your body then thinks it is 30 under attack because food particles leak through the gut lining kicking off an inflammatory immune response which, in turn, activates the lymphatic system. Eighty percent of your body’s immune functions reside in your gut.

“Importance is determined by a very simple question: How quickly will you die if something goes wrong with that system? The more important the system, the more the body compensates for and adapts from all of the other systems to protect your safety and survival.” ~ Perry Nickelston

Number four is the vascular system, responsible for the body’s blood supply. Blood delivers oxygen and nutrients to the tissues. The lymphatic system and the vascular system work symbiotically for nutrient delivery and detoxification. Chronic stress tightens tissue and tight tissue doesn’t accept blood flow well. Most chronic pain issues are the result of decreased blood flow. So when we help number two we also help number four.

Number five are nerves. Nerves deliver sensory input to the brain and then the brain delivers movement output. Every nerve has a corresponding artery that only works as well as the blood supply in it. Tightness in tissue leads to decreased range of motion and decreased motion leads to poor sensory input to the brain and an altered perception of pain.

Number six are the organs. Every organ matters, especially those with the chief purpose is detoxification, or eliminating waste from the body. Three of the biggest ones are the lungs, liver, and kidneys. If these become overburdened, then you lose the ability to eliminate waste from the body. What are two bodily functions that help organs work efficiently? Movement and breathing.

Number seven is the endocrine system, otherwise known as the producer of hormones. Hormones produced by glands primarily travel through the blood and are released by the gut, the liver, the kidneys, and other organs. Key to this process is the hypothalamus, which also controls blood pressure. The HPA axis is a term used to represent the interaction between the hypothalamus, pituitary gland, and adrenal glands. The central nervous system and the endocrine system meet in the HPA axis, making it responsible for the body’s stress response.

Finally, number eight is the musculoskeletal system. This is where most people focus their attention when there is an injury, which is a good thing, but we can’t just stay there. In BEH, this system is actually the least important part of the overall healing puzzle because the musculoskeletal tissue must have optimal function in all of the prior numbers.

Three Important Takeaways I’d Like You to Remember:

  1. Each body system is beholden to the other. They never work alone.
  2. Work through the BEH from the top and the bottom inwards.
  3. Small changes in the bigger numbers lead to massive changes in the smaller ones.

What Can You Do Right Now to Improve Your Pain?

  • Treat the site of pain with any therapy you want. They all work in some way.
  • For two minutes, breathe in through your nose for four seconds, hold your breath for four seconds, and exhale through your mouth for four seconds.
  • Wherever your site of pain is massage the joint above it and below it for 20 seconds each.
  • Drink more water and stop drinking soda. Dehydration is a primary cause of chronic inflammation and pain.
  • Move more daily. Move more of yourself, more often, in more ways, and in more environments.

Next Steps

The information outlined above will help you enhance human performance and treat chronic pain, but if you’re looking to go a bit further, we save our very best content for our Inner Circle Members.

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That’s it for this week, look out for another one of our amazing blogs next week.

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P.S. Leave a comment down below if you have any questions!

What is Perry Nickelston's Body Ecosystem Hierarchy?

I created the Body Ecosystem Hierarchy (BEH) to help me develop my system of looking at the body based on your individual history. It’s a system that looks at the bigger picture of what your body is trying to communicate with all of the symptoms it keeps showing you.

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How to Treat Chronic Pain Using the Body Ecosystem Hierarchy
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How to Treat Chronic Pain Using the Body Ecosystem Hierarchy
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No system in the body ever works alone. Never gets injured alone. Never heals alone. Understanding that is fundamental when it comes to recovering from chronic pain and enhancing human performance.
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Strength Matters
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