Pain is messy business, it rarely exists in just the physical or emotional arenas. If a physical pain moves from an acute injury to a more chronic, or persistent, sensation, it has begun to intertwine with our emotions and behavior.
A brief background on pain:
- Acute pain – such as stepping on a tack or burning our hand on the stove. We can easily see the cause of the pain sensation, and if treated appropriately, these pain responses recover in a few days to weeks without lasting effects.
- Chronic/persistent pain – the causal relationship is more vague. It can be movement related (ie low back pain with certain activities) or more generalized (ie fibromyalgia). Once we tip into this realm, our behaviors and habits begin to change. Going forward, we will discuss this type of pain.
With persistent pain, we may notice that we become fearful or resistant to performing certain activities.
Let’s return to the back pain scenario: If every time I bend forward, I know that historically my back will hurt, I will change by behavior and movement habits to avoid the pain. This isn’t always a bad thing – our bodies are built for survival, but if I carried on like this for years, I have now lost the ability and range of motion to move in that forward direction as well as developed an underlying fear of perceived pain. Our overall physical abilities become more taxing and less efficient as a result.
These emotional ties run deep and fear avoidance can easily begin to interrupt our social lives. In other words, our nervous system is working in overdrive, constantly on edge to help prevent future perceived painful experiences. Our nervous system is what controls our hormones – and our hormones are responsible for regulating just about everything such as our mood, sleep patterns, digestion and our ability to deal with stress.
So what do we do if we find that we are in this chronic pain cycle? One common response is to take pain medications. As you might guess, this is not going to make any lasting changes, only mask the pain temporarily, further hyping up the nervous system.
Another tactic is to find a way to down-regulate the nervous system – once you do this, you will now have the ability to investigate the root cause of the pain and begin to address that.
How do I down-regulate my nervous system? Any mindfulness-based therapy is great for calming things down and getting more in tune with our bodies. This could be meditation or a gentle yoga practice, but what I have found to be most beneficial is the world of somatic education – specifically the Feldenkrais Method.
This method of therapy is designed to first calm the nervous system and then by way of gentle facilitated movements, it allows the client to increase the awareness of their bodies and improve their mobility without their ingrained fear avoidance habits.
The Feldenkrais Method of Somatic Education has helped me to overcome years of persistent and at times debilitating low back pain in a matter of weeks. I gained an awareness of my body and its habits – this was so much more valuable to me than being prescribed a rote exercise program, such as is the traditional approach. Once I was aware of my habits, I was able to make lasting changes in how I moved and found ease in my body once again. This spilled over into other aspects of my life as well, my mood improved purely by way of allowing my nervous system to hit the reset button.
I am now a practitioner of this work because I believe in it whole-heartedly. If you are dealing with persistent pain, are tired of living in accordance with your pain cycle and are ready to make a change, I would love to help. Please email me to schedule a complementary phone/video consultation to help determine if Feldenkrais would be a good fit for you.