Pain – how to deal with itHeidi Hadley
Recently I was involved with presenting a talk on pain within a pain and lifestyle summit. So in today’s blog I would like to discuss what pain is and how we can live with it. We will also consider how we can reduce pain to improve our quality of life.
What is pain?
Pain is very subjective and we all know at some point in our life we have experienced varying degrees of pain. Pain is usually the term or expression given for uncomfortable sensations within the body. The nervous system is triggered to create varying degrees of pain, ranging from mild to stabbing, excruciating pain. Many health professionals will use pain scales to ascertain the level of discomfort their client/patient is enduring. But what is actually going on underneath the skin when pain is felt? Let’s delve deeper!
Pain is really important and we need it for survival. Consider what would happen if you couldn’t feel pain with the following example. You are in the kitchen and have put the stove on. Then all of a sudden you become distracted by something else and attend to that. On your return, you forget that you switched the stove on and as you learn over the stove, you place your hand on top of the hot surface. Without your pain response, your hand would continue to stay there, creating tissue damage and other unpleasant results. However thanks to specialised safety officers within your nervous system known as Nociceptors, they came to your rescue.
Nociceptors (pain receptors) are pretty cool sensory neurons because they sit close to your spine but have these amazingly long fibres which extend to the skin, lungs, gut and other areas of your body. Their level of sensitivity ranges from a mild paper cut to acid burns. When the nociceptors detect a threat to the security and safety of your body, they send out messages in the form of electrical signals to your spinal cord. From there neurons within your brain notice what is happening which then involves the higher order neurons in the cortex, this is the final port of call for pain pathways. It is at this point, the sensory information perceives pain.
However your brain is absolutely amazing. When pain is experienced, your brain tries to counteract it by sending electrical signals back down the spinal cord along what is known as descending pain pathways. These electrical signals trigger natural pain relieving properties such as endorphins. The purpose of these natural pain killers is to do just that, stop or reduce the pain signals and in turn alter the perception of pain.
I find pain fascinating within in my clinical practice I have standardised methods to assess a person’s pain levels. Some people will over react to a stimuli, whilst others do not flinch. This is where pain becomes so interesting because there are many layers to it and that is why Total Somatics has been brilliant for people wanting to reduce pain. Let me explain why.
The many facets
The perception has pain has many facets to it and within the Total Somatics Approach to Health & Wellness, I have been able to work successfully with clients over the years to create achievable and realistic goals to their overall health and wellbeing. If you haven’t already listened to my podcast series REALLY WELL WOMEN, you will see there are foundations to our health - male and female. So all the males out there, please check this out. What I discuss within the podcast series is what I cover with clients within my structured online program and also within clinic. With my background and studies in neurophysiology, neuropsychology and clinical somatics, I am able to offer a program which involves more than just somatic movement. To address pain, more is required.
Within this blog I will stay generic because with every client and every nervous system, I approach clients very differently and within my online program I guide people through this approach to tailor to their needs.
When a person is exposed to a stimuli, such as heat, the nociceptors are involved and relay this information to the neurons within the cortex. Within the cortex neurons can be seen firing away very excitedly. However if the same portion of skin is regularly exposed to intense heat and became inflamed, the nociceptors increase their level of sensitivity. So a gentle feather stroke on that area of skin can feel like somebody pushing down hard on them and rubbing sand paper in to the area. This sensation occurs because the injury to the skin had created a highly sensitised central nervous system. Pain experts have coined this experience as “Central sensitisation.” If the sensitisation has occurred from an injury, this hypersensitivity can remain long after the area has healed. That is what I see with my clients. In my clinical practice, clients that had brain tumours and have been well and 'growth free' for over 15 years are hyper sensitive to light touch near their face or neck. Likewise clients with other forms of nerve pain, fibromyalgia and irritable bowel syndrome continue to feel a high level of pain. It is at this point that pain is no longer a symptom but has become a disease for them because it has created a malfunction within the nervous system.
If you are a regular reader of my blogs, you will know I often discuss the amazing process of neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity is the process discovered by neuroscientists. They realised from thorough examination that the wiring in your brain is not “hard wired” instead it is adaptable and will change according to what you teach yourself. With the amazing circuitry within your brain, you can alter posture, behaviour, thought patterns and habits. One huge area which you can control and will heavily influence your pain perception is the power of your mind. Your emotional state plays a massive role in pain perception and how you react. Consider the following scenario and how the reasoning part of your brain to can interpret and react differently to it.
You are cooking a curry and ……….
Scenario 1: You dip your finger into the sauce to taste it. When your hand touches the sauce, you react immediately and instinctively by moving your hand away, putting it under a tap of cold running water and allowing impulsive language to colour the air! The combination of all those impulsive actions lowers your perception of pain.
Scenario 2: You dish the same curry into a hot serving dish. As you carry the serving dish with oven gloves to the dining table, the hot sauce spills on to an exposed area of your hand. At that moment in time, you contain your language and begin using the reasoning part of your brain to understand that the consequences of dropping the dish would create further problems, so with a hurried, calm and controlled manner you quickly place the serving dish on the table and then go to the running cold water to eased the heat.
This example is very simple, however it explain how the power of your mind influences your pain perception. The temperature was the same but the way the person responding in one scenario and acted in the other influences their perception of pain. By continuing to keep calm and controlled, using empowering thoughts and words helps to maintain one’s emotional state. Scenario 2 identifies how empowering words, thoughts and actions uses areas of our brain which are associated with emotional intellgence and mindfulness. How we view an event has a profound effect on our physical, emotional and mental health.
To learn more about the perception of pain, check out my podcast on pain, perception and mindset by CLICKING HERE.
Education and empowerment
These two words, education and empowerment are at the centre of Total Somatics. Without feeling you understand yourself from the inside out and having tools to deal with these challenges, it can be difficult to break the cycle of pain, disempowering thoughts, words, actions and habits. That is why I created The Total Somatics Approach to Health & Wellness Online Program, to fully skill you up and teach you why what I am teaching you is beneficial everyday. To add to fully skilling you up and complementing the online program, I have recently partnered up with Dr Sarah Wilson ND. Sarah has been an amazing contributor to the podcast series within The Total Somatics Online Program. However recently Sarah and I launched a podcast series that can be found on all major podcast platforms. As I mentioned earlier it is called Really Well Women but it applies to men too. At times we refer to female hormones and issues but 90% of the podcast also applies to men. So please check it out. You will see what we discuss ties in with The Total Somatics Online Program and my weekly blogs. The more I can support and serve you to help reduce pain, improve posture, increase mobility and develop mindfulness, the more you can get out of life.
Allow me to teach you in the comfort of your own home at a time that suits you. To learn more, check out MY FREE EBOOK by clicking HERE.
I look forward to teaching you these brilliant skills, the knowledge and lifestyle approaches.
Heidi Hadley xx