When asked for some advice on how people can reduce pain, many people might expect a bullet pointed list of simple things to do to reduce back pain, an easy “If this… then this” protocol of what to do.
So here is a list one might expect;
- Yoga, followed by a standard paragraph outlining the already well established and very credible benefits of yoga and deep breathing on our bodies.
- Stretching, similar benefits to yoga but possibly more precise.
- Exercise, the one size fits all recommendation for pain that doesn’t really offer the reader anything new that they didn’t already know.
Now, further to that insight, I’m going to try and go one better and offer what I think is the number one way to reduce any pain in our body, that is more powerful than, and doesn’t require doing, any of the above, (and it’s not medication either).
Before I explain, I would like you to remember one thing, pain lies in the brain, therefore a word like neurophysiology might spring to mind, which as it sounds, is not simple, so have a coffee and read on.
I would like you to first imagine a sliding spectrum that your body, specifically your subconscious nervous system flickers through throughout every single second of every day.
At one end of this spectrum we have the “relaxed end”, and at the other we have the “sensitive end”. The relaxed end, is pain-free, calm, happy, positive mood while the sensitive end is painful, stress, body stiffness and negative mood.
Now throughout each day we flick back and forward along this spectrum from relaxed after we sleep and eat and laugh, to sensitive when we are stressed mentally, stressed physically and hungry or tired.
Our objective should be to do everything we can to stay in the “relaxed end” of the spectrum, but we obviously can’t avoid stress in our lives.
Let’s imagine this spectrum is arbitrarily numbered 0->10. Zero being totally relaxed, like we are so happy we are smiling like a cheshire cat, floating on a cloud.
At the other end, level 10 is so sensitive our body is overcome with anxiety and adrenaline, we are ready to fight for our life or run for our life faster than we’ve ever ran before!
Let’s now assume our bodies are consistently vibrating between 3->5 on this spectrum, from our general responsibilities to be good humans our alarm clocks going off early morning but then eating a tasty breakfast with loved ones to the common stress of simply starting at 9am and having to manage traffic congestion etc throughout the day.
And lets make one more arbitrary assumption that when we feel pain from something, we can surmise that our body’s sensitivity has reached a 7/10 on our sensitivity spectrum.
Now, throughout our lives, our body will get hurt, bumps and bruises some worse than others, some than never really go away. Why don’t they go away? Take a reoccurring pain in “Person X’s” lower back that we hurt one morning lifting a heavy suitcase for example. Now that area felt a pinch when we tried to move the suitcase, and then stiffened up inflicting pain above a 7/10.
Key words to note are “felt a pinch”, “moved”, “stiffened”.
“felt a pinch” -> this is a sensation that is picked up through the nervous system.
“moved” -> any action controlled by the nervous system.
“stiffened” -> Signals sent through the nervous system to contract the muscles in the area protect from possible further damaging movements.
So why the pain? Or our new way to look at it … “what is causing this extra sensitivity through the nervous system?”
Well if we remember that our body is ticking over between a 3 – 5 on the sensitivity spectrum and the back pain peaked up to around a 7 before reducing below 7. While below 7 is pain free, it doesn’t always mean, back to normal between 3-5. Often our nervous system in the specific area resides slightly higher, more sensitive, more alert for possibly tissue damage. Let’s say 6/10.
Now, life-curve-ball, what if Person X suddenly falls into financial difficulty (aka extra stress)?
So what? Well what kind of stress will that put on their brain (the brain being the central nervous system). It will increase most likely, so now their body daily stress level will raise to 4-6/10 on the token sensitivity spectrum we created.
That is an increase of 1 point throughout the nervous system, now remember our lower back was bubbling along at an elevated 6/10… well that extra point from financial stress will impact the nervous system as a whole, so that 6 will rise up to a 7/10.
DING DING DING -> Back pain as our lower back crosses over that threshold of 7… Person X’s old injury flares up! Then guess what happens… it’s mini avalanche time!
The pain in our lower back causes an EXTRA stress to our brain, fear that the debilitation has returned. Add another point to the sensitivity spectrum, so now it’s at a temporary 8/10! The cascade might even continue when we think about the negative impact of pain on mood and sleep and tiredness, but let’s not complicate things anymore.
What caused the pain? The unavoidable cognitive stress spiked the nervous system sensitivity, triggering an already heightened area of sensitivity that elicited fear resulting in more cognitive stress.
In the example we’ve just discussed, there has been no extra activity, no accident, no impact… “Maybe I slept funny, maybe it’s my mattress or my bed?” is often the thing people put their sudden reoccurrence of pain down to, the thing that must have happened when they weren’t fully concious. (Or maybe it was in their subconscious) .
Person X told us, nothing physical happened. So why are they in pain? Because the interconnections in the nervous system throughout the brain are so complex that it changed their entire nervous system to being much more sensitive to pain.[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text css_animation="top-to-bottom"]
So to summarize what I believe is the number one way to reduce your pain is:
Do not panic when we feel pain. Take some time to understand the difference between actual tissue damage and the sensation of pain in a specific area. When we feel a slight pain, think about how it could have just happened, remember our current stress levels feed directly into this cause, so we should not get further stressed by fearing there is a return of tissue damage. The pain mechanism is there to warn you of POTENTIAL THREATS to your body, cognitive stress/threats play a large part as they all feed into the same autonomic nervous system.
So hopefully now if your old injury flares up, just while sitting all day, or driving for over an hour… perhaps it’s all the other stresses your life that driving your nervous system crazy, so don’t panic.
And hey, if you want to do a yoga class, stretch or simply move and exercise once a day, all of those things will have calming affects on your nervous system, and take you closer to the pain-free, relaxed and happy end of the spectrum.