Updated: Feb 17
By Oran Aviv
Overcoming Pain It is important to understand how our body and mind react to pain so that we can learn how to overcome it.
Do not wait to relieve pain. Once it becomes long term chronic pain, it can have negative effects on the brain and it will also be more difficult to overcome.
The Vicious Circle of Pain
When we are in pain, we tense up and contract our muscles. By doing this, we cause more pain which in turn causes our muscles to contract more. We end up in a vicious circle of pain and contraction which just doesn't seem to end.
I was fortunate to study Applied Anatomy with Eyal Shemesh who has spent years questioning and exploring how our body works. In one of his articles, Eyal explains
that when we contract our muscles due to pain, cold or another stimulation, the contraction does the exact opposite of what we need to do to reduce the pain. By contracting our muscles we don’t allow the energy to dissipate so the pain can “breathe” and as a result the area becomes more stuck.
Therefore finding a way to relax the contracted muscles can bring almost instant relief because it can reduce all the ‘extra” pain from contracting muscles and get back just to the original base pain.
Those of you who know me personally are aware that I am not fond of medications and in my medicine cabinet you’ll only find natural remedies. I find that many medications treat the symptoms, but not the cause. Also, the side effects of medications, can be dangerous.
However, in the case of this vicious circle of pain, sometimes it is better to take a medication to reduce the extra pain, so the person can relax a bit from the pain caused by the body contracting. When we are stressed from pain, it’s much harder to heal.
There are other ways to treat those contracted muscles without medication which I will share today.
Chronic Pain Affects the Brain
Chronic pain can damage our brain and affect our behavior.
Have you ever had constant mild discomfort? Perhaps a toothache, earache, or headache? The pain itself is not so intense that it prevents you from functioning, but you may suddenly find yourself short tempered and anxious without realizing that this minor ache has affected your behavior. Imagine then how being in constant chronic pain might affect us.
Long term chronic pain can slowly destroy brain cells. When we have constant chronic pain, a part of our brain (front region of the cortex) is constantly working and not resting. This constant activity and no rest, can change how the brain cells communicate with each other.
At Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine study, researchers used MRIs to compare brain activity of people with chronic pain with those without chronic pain.
'If you are a chronic pain patient, you have pain 24 hours a day, seven days a week, every minute of your life," Chialvo said. "That permanent perception of pain in your brain makes these areas in your brain continuously active. This continuous dysfunction in the equilibrium of the brain can change the wiring forever and could hurt the brain."
Another study at Northwestern showed that chronic backpain can shrink the gray matter in our brain. This is the area of our brain that that is responsible for processing information and for storing memory.
Chronic backpain can shrink the brain as much as 11 percent. That means your brain may age up to 20 times faster than normal!
What is important to understand is that chronic pain, besides affecting our mood and behavior, may also cause irreversible damage to our brains.
If you are suffering from back or other types of pain, do not wait to get help. From my own experience working with clients who have pain and sports injuries, the longer they wait to seek treatment, the harder and longer it takes to treat the pain. Don't wait - get help today.
What Is Your Back Pain Telling You?
Dr. Sarno was a Professor of Rehabilitation Medicine. In his work he noticed that very old people whose scans showed many issues in their backs, did not suffer from back pain, while many people between the ages of 40 – 60 had fewer physical back complications, but suffered from debilitating back pain. This lead Dr. Sarno to his theory that that our brain uses pain to distract us from experiencing negative emotions.
Dr. Sarno wrote several books on this theory and although his theory was not accepted by the medical community (he never published research to prove his theory,) a multitude of people worldwide relieved their backpain from his method of basically understanding that their back pain is in their heads.
Many years ago when I was vising my sister while traveling alone with my young children, I bent over in the morning to pick something up and immediately felt and heard my back give out. I could not straighten up and was worried I had done serious damage to my back.
My sister, who had healed her own back pain recently after reading Dr. Sarno’s book, started asking me if something was stressing me or worrying me. I thought a moment and realized I was stressed because I had so much to do that day before leaving to drive up North to visit my parents. I had to change rental cars, get food, snacks, song tapes and activities to keep 3 young kids occupied on a 6-hour car ride, pack and check the best route. There were also some emotional issues connected with vising my parents.
My sister asked if I stayed with her one day longer, if that might reduce the stress. I had never considered that option, which now suddenly seemed so simple.
I felt my tension release almost immediately as I said, "Yes, why don’t I do that, so I’ll have more time to get everything done."
By the evening, my back was totally fine and I even went bowling with my kids.
Today in my own work, I always ask my clients who have pain, what else is happening in their lives. Almost always, a client who came to me for pain from a sports injury, often is also experiencing some work, financial and/or relationship issues as well. Both the injury and the emotional issue need to be addressed for the client to fully heal.
In my work with sports injuries, I use both body work to relax the tight muscles and reflexology to work on the emotional issues.
Reflexology for Backache – Sciatica
I could write a whole article on backache and sciatica and how to treat it (perhaps in a future blog), but today I just want to illustrate how powerful reflexology can be because it works on so many levels to help reduce pain.
The sciatic nerve is the longest nerve in our body. It runs from the lower back through the hip and along the leg to the heel. When the nerve is pinched it causes pain. Sciatica may be caused by a herniated or slipped disc that rubs against the nerve or from a tight/inflamed hip muscle (the piriformis) that irritates the sciatic nerve.
Sciatica can be a very painful and debilitating condition and reflexology may help.
We learned about the vicious pain cycle that happens when we are in pain, and we contract our muscles more. The contracted muscles cause more pain.
This is where Reflexology can be so important. Reflexology, by inducing deep relaxation, can stop this cycle, even if only for a short time. Sometimes relaxing the body can be the most important step to relieving sciatica - as illustrated in the following case story.
R. who was in his early 40’s, suffered from sciatica pain for 3 months. He was in constant pain, had difficulty moving and was not able to sleep through the night without taking pain relievers. R. had visited numerous doctors, taken every possible drug (according to him), and had been hospitalized and given an epidural. None of these treatments relieved him of his sciatica pain.
Very doubtful, but figuring he had nothing to lose, R. tried a Reflexology session. After the first session, R. reported that he had slept through the night for the first time in 3 months without the need for medication.
R. continued coming for reflexology. Five hours after R. had his 4th Reflexology session, he stood up and realized that he was pain free, the first time in 3 months! R. has continued to be pain free.
Notice that the change was not immediate after the 4th session. It took 5 hours for R.’s body to complete the healing and for his brain to understand that he was no longer in pain!
So, how did Reflexology help while so many other treatments didn't?
Reflexology allows the body to relax so it can get out of the vicious pain cycle. In this way a client will feel only the basic pain and not the added pain from contracting muscles. I like to think of reflexology as the restart button on the computer, that brings our body back to it's basic state.
Reflexology helps relax the mind and emotions. When we are in pain, we begin to worry about our future: “Will I be disabled and in pain forever?” Once a client feels less pain, they understand that they will improve so, as according to Dr. Sarno, the brain won’t need to use back pain to distract from these negative emotions.
In Reflexology we can work the reflex points for the sciatic nerve and the reflex points for the spine to help reduce discomfort and without manipulating the spine or hips themselves.
Finally – once we are in less pain, our body can work better to heal itself. Reflexology helps us to get to this point.
A note about this case study: I chose to illustrate how reflexology can help with one of the best examples from my clinic. Not everyone will feel relief so quickly. It depends on the nature of the condition and how long a person has been suffering from the condition.
What is important to know is that the option of reflexology may be helpful and that it can work even if you don’t believe it will, as in R.’s case. There are reflexologists all over the world.
In summary –
We need to get out of the vicious cycle of pain to heal
Chronic Pain can have a negative long term affect on our brain
Don’t wait to treat discomfort and pain.
Our mind may be causing back pain to keep us from feeling negative emotions.
Reflexology may help because it works on so many levels. --------
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