Overcoming Health Issues | Pain Management, Understanding Pain

pain managementWhen overcoming health issues, there is no greater barrier than pain.  Whether physical, mental, emotional or sociological, it can inhibit even the strongest of us. This is why pain management is so important when we endure prolonged pain.

I will never forget the intense pain endured after two back injuries and subsequent surgeries. Even 8 year after my second surgery, I still deal with the daily pain from nerve damage on ongoing physical disability.

Over the years I have tried nearly every type of pain-killer, muscle relaxer, anti-inflammatory, physical therapy, exercise, acupuncture, yoga, stretches, TENS, chiropractor, mind exercises and have been to various specialists in 5 different countries.

All of these have some merit for pain treatment and management, but the most effective method for me has been stretching daily and walking often.

Yet in the end, my best decision for pain management has been the decision to accept the pain, and make it part of who I have become.  As Captain Kirk of Star trek fame said: They’re the things we carry with us, the things that make us who we are. If we lose them, we lose ourselves. I don’t want my pain taken away! I need my pain!

Of course, when you’re in pain, this might seem absurd. However after years of trying to ease my pain, I found that by accepting it, I am allowed the freedom to go on with my life, without using it as an excuse to limit my life.

However, this is not to say that pain is always easy to deal with, nor does it mean it’s all in our heads.

Pain Management: A look at pain

Pain is by far the most common reason we seek medical attention.  Yet pain is hard to define because it is a subjective sensation.

This is why doctors put pressure on various parts of your body and asks these two questions –

  1. “Does it hurt here?”
  2. “Please describe your pain?”

The reason doctors want you to locate and describe pain is because pain is not a one type fits all symptom.  To quantify this, we must look at how pain is detected by our body.

Dr. Craig Freudenrich explains how pain works through this simple process:

  • Contact with stimulus — Stimuli can be mechanical (pressure, punctures and cuts) or chemical (burns).
  • Reception — A nerve ending senses the stimulus.
  • Transmission — A nerve sends the signal to the central nervous system. The relay of information usually involves several neurons within the central nervous system.
  • Pain center reception — The brain receives the information for further processing and action.

As we see, pain starts with some type of injury and then the nervous system sends this information to the brain.  The brain is then the ultimate arbitrator of what type of response is appropriate.  For example the brain can stimulate verbal response (like yelling out), or muscular response (like pulling away) or even a call to action (like making you pull out your cell phone and call for help).

Just as there are degrees of response, there are also degrees of pain. We can describe pain as sharp, dull, aching, throbbing, intense, continual, spasm, mild or even moderate.  We all know that some pain is a simple annoyance (like a paper cut) while some can double you over (like appendicitis), or even make you writhe on the floor (like nerve damage).

Regardless of the type of pain, it almost always requires a response. Now that might be as simple as stretching out a muscle or taking an aspirin.  Sometimes pain requires significant steps. This is why doctors tell us not to disregard pain that is ongoing (like that dull back pain that never goes away) or sudden (like the sudden pain in the arm just before a heart attack).

Why ongoing pain causes so much trouble.

After suffering numerous injuries due to my obsessive, compulsive, attention deficient hyperactive personality, I can say I am an expert in dealing with pain (or at least my own).

One of my largest hurdles has been to not let pain and injuries spread to other parts of my body.  Just like cancer and infection spread, so other pain can spread to other non injured parts.

To explain this, let’s look at a great article I found called Muscular Symptoms of Stress

“The skeletal muscular system is comprised of more than four hundred separate muscles; it accounts for more than 40 percent of body weight. Any one of these muscles can become overly fatigued, injured, or develop spasms. Muscle fibers are designed to tense and then relax. A muscle can go through this tense/relax cycle indefinitely.

As you walk, one set of muscles tenses while the opposing set of muscles relaxes. However, a muscle under sustained tension without an alternating relaxation phase eventually develops spasm and pain. Sustained tension from emotional stress, poor posture, or certain repetitive movements do not allow this relaxed phase to occur.

Unrelieved muscle tension leads to tension headaches, back pain, and TMJ, temporo-mandibular joint (jaw pain). Chronic muscle tension pulls on the muscle’s tendon, and can lead to pain where the tendon is attached to the bone. Chronic tension on a joint or tendon can pull the body out of balance, creating new pains.

This may also cause an inflammation of the tendons, resulting in the painful condition called tendinitis. Chronic muscle tension can result in deterioration in muscle health, strength, and conditioning…”

As this short passage shows, our entire body can be effected by to the stress caused by various injuries.  Even the organs can be negatively affected by an injury to another.

A well working system is great, until something goes wrong

Obviously, our body is not made up of single autonomous parts.  Our bodies are like a well oiled machine.  When one part suffers the entire machine suffers.

After years of study and personal experience, I view all injuries, pains or damage to my body like something that can spread like an infection.  This is why it’s important to view health issues as a whole, and not as individual components.

Especially when it comes to pain, because pain is the body’s way of telling us something is wrong.  So to end part one remember this.

Don’t ignore pain…. Deal with it!

Join us later for part 2 where we will look into simple yet effective ways to manage our pain.