By in Meditation, Mindfulness, Other Therapies, Sports Massage, Therapeutic Massage, Yoga & Pilates

Why Does Chronic Pain Need a Holistic Approach?

You may agree that if you are struggling with chronic, debilitating pain and discomfort or even a chronic illness that causes constant pain, you are dealing with something that is affecting all of you, not just your physical body, but your mood, your stress levels, your everyday tasks, your overall energy and your social life.

How does Pain become chronic?

There is no one simple answer to this unfortunately because all pain conditions are unique to the person who suffers from them. In some cases, it starts with an injury or physical wear and tear. What turns these issues chronic is often unclear. It is however believed that it usually is a mixture of neurological hard wiring to the pain as well as subsequent increases in soft tissue tension as well as emotional trauma.

So this means, first of all as we experience pain somewhere, we do so because our nerves detect an issue and helpfully flag this up to our central nervous system. It is helpful sometimes to remember that the pain we might feel is not the injury, it is the way the body uses to signal a problem to us. We are designed to pay attention to pain beyond many other things. If we feel pain, we won’t notice how cosy the chair is. Pain just drowns out all other sensations. And so the longer we feel pain it can happen that our nervous system begins to deprive us of other sensations and begins to focus on the pain, making it not only feel worse but also making it stick around even though the issue that caused it has gone.

We also tense up more when we are in pain. The tension in turn causes a decrease in blood flow and regeneration of cells, so we are tensioning the painful area into a permanent state.

Another theory is that our nervous system simply is not getting enough information that the threat is no longer there. For example, if we are living a relatively stressful life our nervous system is already in a fight and flight state. When we then experience pain for some reason the nervous system gets another strong message of potential danger. As we remain in this tense and stressed state the nervous system simply does not see a reason to shift into a state where it can let our body relax and heal. Therefore healing may indeed be slowed down and pain may persist as the all-over message is still that we are in trouble.

Trauma in our body works in a similar way. Sometimes we experience chronic pain that started with an injury we got in a car accident. In this case, the body has experienced an injury so quickly and overwhelmingly, it remained in its state of shock and maintains the pain once again to signal to us that there is a problem, even though the problem physically is no longer there. A big part of us is still in the accident, unable to quite move on. In other cases, there never was a physical injury, to begin with, but we develop a chronic pain condition after years of stress and trauma. Once again our nervous system is living in a fight and flight state which causes permanent tension and conflict in our physiology and eventually it uses pain to alert us to the fact that we have been living under a threat of some sort for a long time.   

Why does nothing seem to work?

So you have tried it all, massage, physio, yoga, pilates, meditation, counselling or even an operation? All of these things can be helpful but you are likely still suffering because you are approaching this wrong. Though it makes complete sense that you want to get rid of the pain, remember that the pain itself is not the cause, it is a symptom. And as I shared earlier it is likely a symptom of a rather individual complex cocktail of causes. Having treatments or strengthening a muscle is simply not going to address all these issues.

So how do I get better?

The first thing you have to understand is that your complex pain condition is unique, and so you are and have to be the expert on your pain and your recovery. Of course, there are people who are knowledgeable and can advise and support you, but ultimately it is for you to start noticing “When is my pain worse and when is it better?” A pain diary is a very practical way to start gaining some insight into the patterns and triggers of your condition. Grade your pain from 1 to 10 and note down 3 times a day what your pain levels are. Do this over the course of a few weeks and you will realise that there are times when your pain is not as bad. You may further realise from taking these notes what tends to trigger your pain and what helps ease it.

By all means seek out the things that make your pain decrease, like massage treatments, distractions or breathing techniques. Finding more practices that shift your nervous system into a relaxed, calm and safe state will help your soft tissue to relax, reducing tension and pain and toning down the need for high alert danger signalling like pain.

Rest when your body needs it and engage in gentle, mindful movement practices when you can. Keeping your body active, functioning and regenerating is very important, however, you want to get the balance just right and do not push yourself. Movement yes! But less tough activity for longer is more helpful than a brutal workout. It can be easy to slip into total inactivity due to exhaustion and pain, however, pain is likely going to get worse as we then start moving again as the inactivity stiffens up the body and decreases blood flow to the painful areas. Remember that you are not injured as such, which would require rest. This pain is chronic and movement is vital for recovery.

Last but not least remember trauma being held in the body. Often times engaging in relaxing practices alone is just not enough to convince the nervous system that it is okay to calm down and relax. If you hold past trauma inside your body this likely would benefit from body-oriented trauma therapy like Somatic Experiencing.

If you would like help with your chronic pain recovery or you would like to learn more about somatic trauma therapy contact Kristin at The Body Matters on 01702 714968.

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