Chronic pain, whatever its cause, it’s a much bigger problem in our modern society than most people think. Although the article below is on a specific cause, I think we can learn from it which will also help us have a better understanding of what can be done if you or somebody you care about has chronic pain.
There are really two areas to reflect on. One is ‘What can be done about chronic pain?’. The other is the impact chronic pain has on our ability to monitor our own feelings and bodily sensations.
This post is deliberately being kept very brief so some of the statements are not backed up by research, however it does exists. Let’s get to the point and if it’s relevant to you can dig a little deeper later.
What most people don’t realise with chronic pain is that most painkillers quickly stop working. It can be as quick as a few weeks or a month or two. But the evidence is quite compelling that after a while painkillers have no beneficial effect.
Unfortunately, in the West, we are fixated on pharmaceutical solutions to problems. There are increasing studies now showing that for many forms of pain, an appropriate targeted and specific physical exercise can be beneficial which in some cases are producing almost miraculous results. It does require a person with chronic pain to be put together with somebody who really does understand the body and physical exercise. A general exercise class is very unlikely to deliver fantastic results.
A second area is now being expanded on is the mind-body connection. One of the more well-established books is called Healing Back Pain: The Mind-Body Connection, it is written by a renowned spinal surgeon who found that psychological interventions can be more effective than his surgery. Once again he backs it up with a lot of quality research.
Recently there has been a significant effort to use mindfulness with people with chronic pain. Breath works is probably the most well-known worldwide now. Mindfulness doesn’t get rid of the pain, after all drugs can’t do that either, but it changes the way a person relates to pain the way that pain can take over. People report that after learning mindfulness to use with pain, they are happier and their lives are less restricted by the pain.
The second reflection from the research article linked below is the linkage between chronic pain and in this case anxiety. This is no surprise.
Firstly there has been a big shift in psychology. We now realise that we are run far more by emotions than we ever thought we were. This is backed by good research.
If you’re there thinking… not me! I’m totally rational… Well! The evidence is compelling. When the brains of people are studied as they work, it can be seen that when somebody is being exceedingly logical and rational as they progress to the solution, bits of their emotional brain will fire and say things that aren’t right yet. And then when a solution is found, it will fire a signal saying that this is good. And a good emotional signal will conclude the rational process.
Another way of looking at being driven emotionally. Let’s say you have some form of agoraphobia, you don’t want to go outside. Your fridge is empty and you’re starting to become hungry. To start with the fear of going out is going to be stronger than the emotions generated by the hunger. As the hunger increases and get stronger it’s going to override the fear of going out and you will go out.
Another simple example that I suspect a lot of people can relate to. You make a definite firm rational decision to improve your health by cutting out junk food and eating less. That’s great. However 11 o’clock at night you’re feeling hungry and you raid the biscuit tin. What happened! Well when you made the rational decision you probably had only recently eaten so the hunger bit of your brain is quiet. As that hunger bit gets louder and louder eventually its emotional signal is stronger than that generated by the bit of your brain that wanted to be healthier. So it wins.
Now how does this relate to chronic pain conditions like anxiety, depression and panic attacks?
A thing to realise about all these conditions is they don’t just happen. It’s not that you’re fine one moment in the next things have gone horribly wrong. There are thoughts feelings and sensations that lead up to these conditions. So if you’re having an anxiety episode then it’s likely there was some slight signals beforehand may be minutes, maybe hours maybe even days before.
Now if you have chronic pain then there are powerful signals going to your brain that seem much louder than the subtle signals from these emotions so they tend to get missed.
Once again mindfulness can step in here. It’s possible to pick apart the different signals our brain is getting. To be able to detect the subtle signals in the shouting pain. You can then take steps to alleviate and on coming attack.
If you’ve any thoughts about what I’ve said here, please leave a comment. I’d love to hear from you.
The featured article below is written by Ana Pena.
Pain-associated emotions and reactions can reduce the ability of women with fibromyalgia to perceive what’s going on inside their body, according to researchers in France. Their findings add to our knowledge of how patients with chronic pain integrate body signals and emotional processing.