By Shane Sauer
The last article I wrote was Pain 101 and it talked about some aspects of pain that you might not have known about. Take a moment to review that article because some of the terms used there show up in this article. Additionally, in this article, I'm going to give you some easy ways to apply that information. This might help you stop pain in its tracks, or at least lessen its effect. Here are some things you can do:
- Move - Ever been told to "walk it off" or shaken your hand after jamming a finger? We instinctively do these things because they help reduce the pain of the event. Pain signals are sent to our brain through pain sensors (nociceptors) in our nervous system. Movements signals have their own sensors as well (mechanoreceptors). What's interesting is the pathway to the brain for movement sensation is much greater and faster than that of pain. So the movement signals can essentially drown out the pain signals. You can try this with any type of pain, but it works best for minor somatic pain and when our brain is seeking more information. This is just one more example of why exercise is so important.
- Touch - Touching or rubbing can also alter pain sensation. This is why we might rub our arm after it gets pinched. We have numerous types of touch sensors and they work just like the movement sensors described above. Because touch works like movement, it also functions best in the same situations as movement. Just realize, there are different types of touch (light, deep, vibration, etc) and each one may work in different scenarios, so try them all.
- Breathe - Breathing deeply and slowly helps with all types of pain. This is true because breathing affects our brain stem directly, allowing us calm down. When we calm down, our situation becomes less threatening and pain can subside. This part of the brain stem is also in charge of pain regulation subconsciously. So deep, slow belly breaths can actually stop pain signaling before you know about it. Additionally, proper belly breathing uses your diaphragm muscle. As you inhale, the diaphragm will push your belly out because it sits right above your organs. So when it moves, they do too. This organ mobilization is natural, important and can really help with viscerally derived pain.
- Visualize - Because pain lives in the brain, we can use the brain to help control it. There are many visualization strategies that have been created for pain management. These strategies typically target sympathetic pain, but can work with all types of pain. The best technique varies from person to person, but all of them do take practice. If you're dealing with pain, try out some of these examples and see what works best for you:
- Size & Color Imagery - Imagine the pain as a large ball in a vibrant color. Then mentally shrink the ball and change the color to something softer. The pain sensation may reduce in the same manner.
- Displacement - Imaging moving the pain to another part of your body where it might be more easily managed. You could even try moving it to something outside of your body.
- Mental Anesthesia - Picture novocaine acting on the site of pain. Slowly spreading over the area, numbing and reducing the pain.
- Splitting - Divide the pain into different components (hot, burning, stinging, throbbing, etc.). Focus on the least uncomfortable component, allowing the other aspects to slip away.
These are just a few of the many ways people deal with pain. It's my hope that by having a better understanding of where pain comes from and what you can do about it you'll be better equipped to handle it in the future.
Check out this video that exapnds on and takes a deeper look at the information presented in this blog.
You can find also find other videos from MATRIX Personalized Fitness on YouTube.