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How to manage pain

Did you know, over 1.5 billion people in the world suffer from chronic pain? It’s the number one cause of long term disability. For some, the journey begins in childhood with the nervous system learning to detect danger and pain early on. For others, it begins at the onset of symptoms or with everyday stressors in our adult lives. Both paths are equally valid and real.

Chronic pain can also trigger a complex array of emotions like shame, fear, guilt, anxiety and worthlessness. These negative feelings have a propensity to exacerbate pain and impede recovery, leading to behavioural changes such as avoidance, isolation and functional disability. It's so important to remember that the development of chronic pain is not your fault AND there are things you can do to break the cycle. Both of these things can be true. Chronic pain looks different for everyone.

The Old adage of 'No pain, No gain' really doesn't hold when we're dealing with chronic pain! Our nervous system is incredibly plastic and picks up habits easily. The more the nervous system 'practices' activating a pain response the easier it becomes to activate it again and again. The brain then changes to protect itself and will trigger a pain response even when no danger of pain or injury is present.

Learning about this pain response can be helpful and finding out your pain triggers can help you work through this. Pushing through the pain however, is really detrimental to your recovery. Pain triggers can be physical and include; pinched nerves, misalignment, alcohol consumption, surgery, poorly managed diabetes, immune problems, chemotherapy, smoking or too much high intensity exercise. The triggers can also be emotional e.g. work or home stress, grief, relationship breakdowns, depression and anxiety. Keeping a pain diary and noting any triggers can help you to notice patterns in your pain and manage your personal triggers better.

Chronic pain can be continuous or episodic. It comes in many different forms making it extremely difficult to classify. Sometimes chronic pain directly relates to specific illnesses like chronic inflammatory disease or cancer. Other times it has no clear identifiable biological origin. More commonly though, chronic pain arises from nervous system dysfunction.

Recently the World Health Organisation divided chronic pain into seven categories to encompass the most common clinically relevant chronic pain disorders (Treede et al., 2015). These are listed below.

  1. Chronic primary pain (e.g. fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome)

  2. Chronic cancer pain (caused by cancer or cancer treatment)

  3. Chronic post-surgical or post-traumatic pain (persisting for greater than 3 months after tissue damage)

  4. Chronic neuropathic pain (caused by nervous system lesion/disease)

  5. Chronic headache and orofacial pain (idiopathic or symptomatic)

  6. Chronic visceral pain (caused by inflammation, ischemia, thrombosis, distension, obstruction, compression around internal organs)

  7. Chronic musculoskeletal pain (pain arising from bones, muscles, joints and related soft tissues)

I have type 7 and I'm very familiar with what happens when I'm not disciplined in managing my pain. The good news is that we can re-train our brains and the response we get to pain. Hang in there! The journey starts with awareness. Re-training our brains to notice the sensations in areas that have previously had little or no movement. Also re-enforcing pain free sensations in those areas of the body. My 1 on 1 therapeutic yoga practices can help you to work through this in a targeted way (book here).

Back pain is one of the most common causes of disability globally, and unfortunately for most people this becomes chronic. The most common diagnosis for back pain is ‘Non-specific’ (around 90%) and modern medicine finds no identifiable anatomical reason to cause the pain. Western medicine also has minimal success in treating and managing back pain and surgery or pharmaceuticals are only reliably helpful in some cases. However, the good news is that a holistic approach to this kind of pain can make a difference. Stress release both mentally, emotionally and in the tissues of the back can play a huge part in recovery. Addressing the key pillars of health (e.g. stress, sleep and diet) are the most important foundations for your recovery. Yoga therapy can help to teach the nervous system to re-learn pain free movement and help overcome stress and anxiety around the pain response.

Get in touch to discuss a personalised and holistic plan to help you with your pain management. I offer nutrition programs, sleep and stress solutions and therapeutic yoga sessions to address your specific pain. Let’s get you feeling better!

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