A new year, a new relationship with pain
A very smart woman once told me, “Pain is greedy.” And now I use that sentence more times a day than I can count. Pain IS greedy. It can consume us with not only physical sensations, but can build on our mental and emotional burden. Being in pain can even challenge our brain power to perform simple tasks like remembering where we put our keys, or the next step to our favorite recipe we have made a million times. It can make us cranky and tired and cause us to isolate ourselves. But not all is lost! We can change all of that. Whether you’ve been experiencing pain for 20 years or sprained your ankle yesterday, the more you know about your pain, the better you will feel.
So … what the heck is pain anyway? Pain is the brain’s interpretation of a signal sent from other parts of your body. Just like your brain interprets soundwaves as language when someone is speaking to you, or light waves as images you can recognize, pain is another form of signaling that the brain has to organize and interpret. Pain is a way for our brain to signal a possible threat to our tissues. Sometimes we have pain when there is no threat. Sometimes we don’t have pain when we have an actual injury. Pain is weird and completely specific to all the special and unique life experiences and body happenings that make you, you!
Here are some tips and resources to get you started on learning more about your pain. If you need more help and pain is really interfering with your life in a negative way, reach out to your local Physical Therapist. We can help!
— Take 5-10 minutes per day to try a guided audio meditation. Meditation has been scientifically proven across many fields of study to enhance our brain power and rewire our brain’s relationship with the body.
— Be kind to yourself. Give yourself credit for things you are able to do and reinforce your personal strengths. Know that you will have bad days and good days. It’s important to ask yourself, “Is this pain telling me my body is not safe right now? Am I causing injury?” If so, take the time to change your activity so you are safe. But, if not, know that hurt does not always equal harm. Can you do some gentle exercise, or meditation, or deep breathing to nurture and acknowledge your pain? Maybe you just need a new activity or a change of positions.
— Find a social support system. The more you surround yourself with people and activities that makes you feel good, the better your brain will sort out the signals being sent by the rest of your body.
— Find a physical activity that you enjoy. Go for a walk, play some ping pong, find an exercise class with your friends. The brain needs the body to move to clear up those misfiring nerves!
— Learn about your brain and the pain process with these resources:
- Retrainpain.org: This website is full of 1-minute slideshows explaining pain and how it works in regards to different systems of your body
- Fragrantheart.com: Really lovely and straight forward guided audio meditations and instructions on how to set yourself up for success
- CureforChronicPain.com: This site will lead you to a wealth of resources. She also has a free YouTube channel with tips and tricks on how to manage the emotional and mental health toll that pain can take on you
- Happiness Lab: Podcast with Dr. Laurie Santos (available on all podcast stations or at https://www.happinesslab.fm/)
Take all of this advice in stride. These tips are simply ways that you can work to become more resilient, increase your ability to return to your normal daily activities, and actually find enjoyment in your life. There is no magic wand or 100% cure for everyday pain. The biggest takeaway is that pain is a part of life, but it doesn’t have to rule your life. You are not alone and you are stronger than you know. Be patient with yourself and try a little bit at a time.
If you have any more questions, I encourage you to reach out to the Physical Therapy department at St. Luke for a free consult! Call us at 406-528-5234.