If your pain and “sensitive nervous system” has overstayed its welcome, it’s important to know that you have a plethora of treatment options today than ever before. There are several techniques/treatments that can control and reduce your pain that don’t require invasive procedures and/or medications. As our pain series comes to an end, we will be focusing on several strategies that have been shown through research that help people struggling with persistent pain.
EDUCATION is KEY! – Understanding and gaining knowledge of the neuroscience of your pain will undoubtedly ease your fears and provide hope. Having this knowledge alone will move you forward to a faster recovery. It’s important to understand that your pain is complex. “How you think and process pain is vital to how much pain you experience, and that a big cause of your pain is heightened sensitivity.” Studies have shown that your nerves will begin to immediately calm down when your awareness regarding the root of your pain increases.
- According to Harvard University, mind-body therapies have the capacity to decrease pain by changing the way that you perceive it. Dr. Ellen Slawsby from Harvard medical school suggests that it’s important to learn several stress/anxiety relieving techniques so that you can settle on ones that work best for you. Think of these different techniques as similar to flavors in an ice cream store. Depending on your mood and how you’re feeling, you might desire a different flavor of ice cream (or a different technique) Research suggests that practicing a combination of mind-body skills increases the effectiveness of alleviating pain.
- The following techniques can help to override your “sensitive” central nervous system:
- Deep breathing – this technique is central to all of the techniques, so good breathing is the one to learn first. To help you focus, you can use a word or phrase to guide your breathing. For example, you can breathe in “happiness” and breathe out “tension.” There are several applications on your smartphone that use sound and images to help you maintain breathing rhythms.
- Meditation with guided imagery – As you are practicing deep breathing, you will want to pay attention to each breathe. You can also listen to calming music or imagine being in a peaceful environment
- Mindfulness – You can pick any activity that you enjoy – Reading books, taking long walks, gardening, cooking, hiking – and become fully immersed in it. You want to be able to notice every detail of what you are doing and how your senses and emotions are responding.
- Positive thinking – When we don’t feel well, we have the propensity to focus on what we aren’t able to do. You want to retrain your focus on what you can do instead of what you can’t. It’s also helpful to keep a journal or diary and list out all of the things that you are thankful for each day.
AEROBIC EXERCISE – “Research studies have shown that aerobic exercise, which gets your heart pumping faster and pumps blood and oxygen throughout your body, helps calm your nerves down.” Studies have shown that brisk walking between 10-20 minutes is all that is needed to have a calming effect on nerves. It’s also important to remember that if you exercise, you will naturally pump blood and oxygen through your body and you will achieve the following benefits:
- Less muscle soreness
- Improved sleep
- Weight loss
- Decreased stress levels
- Fewer mood swings
- Decreased or no depression
Here are some helpful exercise strategies:
- Start small: Start with three to four minutes of exercise at a time. Every two days, add one minute until you reach 15-20 minutes of regular exercise. Walking is certainly an easy option. If walking is too strenuous/painful, you can substitute walking with biking or swimming.
- Make a plan: Write down a plan that includes where you will be exercising, as well as at what time and for how long.
- Rest: Don’t exercise every day. Make sure to schedule days off. Research suggests exercising 3-5 days a week.
- Grab a partner: Find a friend to work out with.
- Back off a bit: Many people in pain are doing too much exercise. Remember to pace yourself
- Ready the words: If you are experiencing some aches and pains, its important to remind yourself that your tissues are sensitive and that everything is okay. You are working on making them healthier and less sensitive.
SLEEP HYGIENE – Research has shown that at least eight hours of sleep is needed for most people. On average, Americans sleep six hours a night and people in pain average less. “Sleep deprivation has been linked to increased rates of pain, obesity, depression, and other health-related disorders.” Here are some helpful sleep strategies:
- Shut off: Shut the lights, television, phone, and/or computer off because they stimulate your nervous system and brain, which can make it difficult to fall asleep
- Set time: Have a set time to go to bed. Research has shown that the more time you sleep before midnight, the more refreshed you are in the morning.
- Naps: Research has shown that if you sleep in the day for more than 20 minutes, it will have a negative effect on your much needed night’s sleep. If you do need to take a nap during the day, take naps of 20 minutes or less.
- Notes: Park your ideas. When you have a lot of things on your mind, jot them down on a piece of paper so your brain can go to sleep.
- Exercise: You generally sleep better when you exercise regularly
SETTING GOALS – Many people in pain may be thinking, “How can I set goals if I can barely get up in the morning and get through my day?” Conversely, many other people in pain have goals that are so big, and they seem out of reach. When making a goal list, consider the following:
- The things that you NEED to do, such as cooking, cleaning, and chores around the house. It’s important to find ways to break these chores down into manageable/smaller pieces.
- The things that you would love to be able to do. These dreams or hobbies may include running a marathon, hosting a dinner, going on a hike, and/or going to a football game (GO REDSKINS!). It’s also important to remember that goal setting is only one part. The more that you gain knowledge of your pain, empower yourself, exercise and improve sleep, these tasks will inevitably get easier. Never stop dreaming big, know that it’s a process, take your time, and keep moving yourself forward toward your goals even if you’re only taking small steps each day.
This blog was intended to provide helpful strategies to those suffering from persistent pain. It’s important to remember that pain is very individualized, so you need treatment specifically for your pain. “It’s also important to remember that pain is normal. However, living in pain is not normal.”
Louw, A. (2013). Why do I hurt?.