By April Schulte-Barclay
Tuesday, October 25, 2016
When it comes to the nagging pain you may be experiencing on a day-to-day basis, you may find more than meets the eye.
With dependence on pain medications, which have undesirable side effects and often lead to addiction, it is worthwhile to consider options for treating chronic pain.
It is commonly understood that peripheral nerves send signals to the brain (via the spinal cord) and that the brain then makes decisions regarding the course of action to take to protect the body.
Sometimes the spinal cord will also make decisions and send a signal to the body (in the form of pain) for quicker action, giving the brain time to make executive decisions.
With chronic pain, the nerve endings continue to send pain signals if tissue damage continues to be occurring (such as with arthritis or a pinched nerve) and sometimes even fires when the physical stimulus is not present anymore.
That explanation may seem straightforward, but pain is complicated by our hormones, nervous system, thought processes and more. Factors such as emotional stress, poor nutrition and hormonal imbalances can contribute to pain.
For the sake of simplicity, let’s isolate how our emotions can contribute to physical pain. To illustrate how emotions can affect pain, take a brief moment to do the following exercise:
Close your eyes. Imagine you just had a passionate argument with someone to whom you are close. In your mind’s eye, walk away from the argument and imagine that while walking away you step bare-footed onto a sharp rock. Imagine how that may feel physically.
Now, imagine you just found out you won the lottery. In your excitement, you start pacing the floor bare-footed and step on the same sharp rock. Notice how stepping on the rock feels emotionally.
Can you feel a difference in pain levels between the two scenarios from stepping on the rock?
Likely, you noticed that stepping on the rock elicited less pain after you found out you won the lottery.
The same effect of emotions altering pain occurs with emotional and physical traumas throughout life.
Furthermore, emotions can be stored in tissues anywhere in the body, leading to chronic pain.
With a general understanding and acceptance that the body’s perception of pain is not black and white, treatment options for pain become more vast and variable than pain medications.
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) inherently considers how our emotional and physical health are entwined. Each organ system directly corresponds with a specific emotion.
For example, “worry” corresponds directly with the digestive system. Over-worrying depletes the digestive energy, causing digestive distress like excess gas bloating, acid reflux, intestinal distress and more.
When the digestive system is compromised, the person is not assimilating nutrients optimally, which leads to not being able to heal in a timely manner. From there, chronic pain is likely to ensue.
Acupuncture is very well known to successfully treat pain conditions. TCM considers that pain arises from blocked energy called “qi” (pronounced ‘chee’). When qi becomes blocked and stagnant within the body along energy channels called meridians, pain arises in those meridians.
Acupuncture acts to unblock the stagnant energy, thus relieving pain. Within modern research, acupuncture is shown to be effective in treating multiple pain conditions by releasing naturally occurring endorphins.
Research also shows that acupuncture increases blood flow and white blood cell production. The mechanism of action on how acupuncture achieves those physiological changes remains unknown.
Mental and emotional techniques also have a prominent place in pain relief.
Talk therapy and techniques such as biofeedback, emotional freedom technique and eye movement desensitization reprocessing can help unlock belief systems that hold someone’s energy in a stuck place.
Therapeutic massage can increase blood circulation and release fascia and muscle tension. Homeopathy can also effectively unblock the stuck energy responsible for pain.
Pharmaceutical intervention for pain certainly can serve a purpose, but medications tend to rob the person of learning to listen to the clues the body is giving to show the system is out of balance. This makes them ineffective at solving the root cause of the pain.
When a person is ready to effectively integrate emotional and physical treatments, chronic pain can be alleviated.