Pain and Healing – Part VII

There are many paths to helping people.

Moving with more ease and more movement is the best long term recovery strategy.

As we continue to shift your thoughts and beliefs about pain, consider this: pushing through pain will not make you stronger or more flexible. It actually increases risk to sensitizing the nervous system even more.

The goal of movement should be more ease now. You should be thinking afterwards, “I don’t regret doing this movement.” Our breath test will tell us we are doing the right thing for our systems.

The neuro-immune system is impacted when you push too hard. The commonly held belief that pain is all in your mind is the main reason people push themselves. You don’t have to live with it or despite it. Starting with the belief that pain is not changeable goes against the research. We have to believe that change is possible. We don’t know the degree for each person but we know it’s possible.

Let’s look at the analogy of cook and how it relates to pain. If you make a chili and add too much spice, you don’t add more spice to make it better, you add tomatoes or something else. Pushing through the pain is not going to make the pain go away.

As we have learned over the last two months, pain is highly complex, and we can’t understand all of it. But it is possible to move with ease and understand pain better.

Evidence of increased safety in movement is related how pain is experienced.

SIMs and DIMs can be explored in yoga. The ritual of yoga and breath, calms the physiology and nervous system. Layer breath with ease of movement. Body tension is danger (fight or flight/DM) and you can’t let go and experience fast, shallow breath. You may not know how tight or how to let go. Start with breathing calmly then add benign movement, then move towards more “dangerous” or complex movement. Progression turns a DIM into a SIM. Navy Seals go through a similar process in their training – that’s how they can achieve intensely incredible feats by remaining calm while working through progressively more dangerous situations.

Process. Persistence. Compassion.

Often times we experience euphoria when pain is gone. Then we quit our practice. Consider this analogy: If you were playing darts and hit the center, you might think “whoo hoo! I did it.” You feel great. You did it. But, imagine if you tried it everyday for two months. Imagine how good you’d be.

What if you throw a dart and you don’t hit the target? What does that tell you? Doing something once doesn’t tell us much about what could happen in the future with practice. Repetition is key. Start simple with breathing. Try it everyday 5 times for 5 minutes and see in a week or two weeks.

There is also the common sports analogy. Practice makes you better. Imagery and visualization can stimulate movement that is not yet possible. Watch yourself doing it. Feel yourself do it from the inside out. Yoga Nidra is a practice of guided imagery. If you are someone who keeps pushing yourself, this might be a good place of peace to start from.

Facial muscles even feed into the parasympathic nervous system. Research suggests that when we clench our eyes, ears, mouth, tongue it sends a danger signal to our brain. Softening around these orfices is a SIM. Setting an hourly timer to consciously relax the muscles in our face for 20-30 seconds helps us to develop our neuroplasticity.

Pain can be so wound up that little things can have a big influence on it. One system can change another system. We don’t know the degrees and complexity.

Neil Pearson, physio and yoga therapist shares 5 steps for pain care and can be found on his website.  Here are 2 things to consider when looking for a practitioner to help you heal:

  1. Feel heard. This can change our pain.
  2. Someone who is a helper, a part of the process, not doing something to you. The client is the doer. This is key to the whole process. The practitioner should applaud lowering of pain in the session. Then give something to do to work towards maintaining that lowered pain.

It’s a Butterfly effect: 1 small change can change the relationship of the whole system. 

I’d like to conclude with a Summary of what is known about Pain and Healing.

Persistent pain is pain that is often undiagnosed from tests and not an infection. Doctors don’t know what to do. The complicated part is taking ownership of what’s really going on (eg. Hating your job, childhood trauma, diet). Are you coping in a healthy way? We acknowledge it is scary to nudge your comfort zone.

What we know is pain is subjective based on the individual. Your brains interpretation of what is going on is a protective response of a trigger. Further, emotional pain can manifest physically. It can be related to the environment, structural, sensory input, gut, thoughts, support systems, what you’ve been told or haven’t been told. When we feel helpless or out of control, that is danger. When we feel danger it can strengthen the fear, tension, sympathetic nervous system and pain. Where pain is, is not the problem. Pain is saying, pay attention to me. Low vs high pain tolerance is an interpretation by the brain of what is going on. We can work on flipping the script on how we use words. Finding the positives (SIMs) and retraining safety in our body/mind.

Remember, change is possible! Explore these on your own to develop your awareness:

  1. Educate yourself on pain science. 20 minutes a day can decrease pain. Knowledge is power. When you are empowered, you are in control.
  2. Stress exacerbates symptoms. When quiet, symptoms go away. Notice the quiet moments – change has happened! We can’t think clearly when we are in pain, we ruminate, get irritable and can’t recognize the good moments. Journal and plot out the good and bad moments over the week. Then make a decision about what they can do about it.
  3. Recognize, Reduce, Eliminate. Try Pain Train or Symptom Tracker app if journaling is producing too much anxiety.
  4. Support Groups can be a danger if members complain all the time and increase fear.
  5. It takes more than 1 time with a practitioner for a shift/healing. Be patient. Don’t resist. Own it. Ride the wave. Keep in mind that the first visit the practitioner could be having an off day or you could be having an off day. By the third visit some shift should occur. Could be any number of reasons why you don’t vibe with a practitioner. There is no fault, just that relationship in that moment didn’t work (context). You may or may not be in the right headspace to hear or listen. Instant gratification can’t be the expectation. Keep working through everything under the surface.
  6. Self development: create a web of support. You don’t have to do it alone. If your friend was in the same situation what advice would you give them? All the things that we do, is because we said yes. Do you need to take something off your plate? Do you need to say no? Walk more? Drink water? Stop smoking? Are you ready to take the next step? What do you already have? Contemplate that it might not be people, it could be animals or music or writing. Healing comes from within. No one is going to do it for you.

In health,

Lindsay

Pain and Healing – Part IV

 

Today I am reviewing the session with Dr. Tracy Jackson to discusses opioid addiction and pain. She says that anyone who experiences addiction feels a sense of isolation, feelings of failure or a need to be put their dependency in a positive light. They feel stigmatized.

When we are in pain, we are under psychological and physical duress. Our sympathetic nervous system, also known as our fight or flight system is stressed.

A big piece of the puzzle about pain is unpacking assumptions. The first and foremost is that the experience of pain can be different for everyone. Second, often times, patients are not in the doctors office long enough communicate and to be heard. You have your 10 or 15 minutes and are given medication of your symptoms. Having to go back to the doctors multiple times is inefficient and unhelpful. Third, there is little in the way of pain education in medical school. Doctors are not well versed in understanding pain.

So a part of this conference that I attended and what I am hoping to impart to you, the reader, is to empower you to understand what is going on in your body. What we do is not complicated, we just do it often, over and over again. This means we can re-train our bodies and our minds! We are incredibly resilient and the results are durable. yay! Experiencing a reduction in pain mean it can be long term (hope!) (yay!) (double yay!)

Medicine ads tell us to take this drug or that drug to keep going and enjoy life but this doesn’t address the issue or the innate intelligence of our body. While medicine can be life saving short term – it should be temporary while you learn how to retrain your body. Research findings tell us that no pill or surgery that is going to “fix” a body part that is just responding to a brain that is on high alert. We have to calm the underlying stress to be a better ______(fill in the blank).

When we feel unsafe we are pricked with the highest capacity for pain. We experience symptoms like insomnia, adrenal fatigue, depression – we are on high alert. When we feel safe we have a lower capacity for pain. We feel more energized, happy, alert, and creative – we are calm and relaxed. For someone who is diagnosed with fibromyalgia, there is a certain stigma (DIM) but at the same time, the person can feel better just from the diagnosis (SIM). Anyone can endure an illness – we want to be able to channel the “enduring” to make changes.

The challenge is that it is hard to see while in the thick of it. It takes a long time to develop pain or addiction but recovery can be quick.

If you, or someone you know has concerns for addiction, Dr. Tracy Jackson offers these steps to take:

  1. There is hope. It won’t be as bad as you think. Have compassion for yourself because relapse is high.
  2. If you are given a prescription for opioids ask for a referral for treatment.
  3. Keep trying. People are desperate to help you if you want to be helped.
  4. Mindfulness and movement are the most effective ways to cope with pain and addiction.
  5. Self-care. Put your airplane mask on first. This is the same for family members who see another family member in pain.

Opioids can actually make the experience of pain worse. Once you come off dependency, the capacity for pain will be improved and the body will function better (better immune, more energy, etc). If you are taking opioids, come up with a coping plan for withdrawal – make sure your support system is in place.

A part of the coping plan is looking at your diet. Diet is critical because there are lots of inflammatory foods that impact all of our body systems. It is also important to unplug from technology and go out in nature. The Japanese have a term called “forest bathing” for the therapeutic effects of walking and appreciating nature. Dr. Jackson also recommends at least a 150 minutes of yoga a week that is calming.

Next week, I will explore the topic of diet and gut health from the perspective of Ayurvedic medicine and how it relates to pain.

In health,

Lindsay