For many patients dealing with chronic pain, they are often encouraged to try to "not think about the pain" or do things to help mask the pain. In some cases though, this may not be the approach they need to take. I have written this post to explain a very different approach that has helped many of my patients drastically reduce their chronic pain.
For the last 10 years I have been blessed to be a myofascial release practitioner. This was something that I stumbled on when attending what I thought was just going to be a “typical continuing education course”, having no idea how my path as a physical therapist was going to change. Since becoming a myofascial release specialist, I have grown to enjoy and embrace treating chronic pain, mostly because I have seen such a profound change in not only patients pain levels but also the return to living an active lifestyle for many patients. One of the most challenging, but most effective things I have learned along the way is helping patients learn to “feel into the pain”
Quite often, patients have been in pain for so long that they don’t even remember what it was like to not be in pain, nor do they know how to even begin to find their way out. The thought of feeling deep into the pain, and I mean, all the way in, can be extremely frightening. But the other option, which is often much worse is being stuck in the pain. When patients can begin to trust the process, they can begin to heal, but it does come from the inside out. There is saying that “the issue is in the tissue” and I have found this to be very true with many patients. Many times, we have been injured, whether it was physical or emotional, and our bodies have stored that memory into our fascial tissue. We begin to hold that tissue memory and our bodies start to communicate with us through pain. Pain is a signal that our bodies give us that something needs attention and if we don’t begin to listen to the message, guess what, it gets louder. And quite often, the source of your pain may not always be where you’re feeling it. This makes healing very complex and challenging. Keeping in mind the nature of chronic pain, it’s no wonder that healing isn’t usually straightforward.
But there are a few strategies you can do to help.
Acknowledge the pain: Just because we try to cover up, mask the pain, or simply ignore it, doesn’t mean it will go away. Being mindful of the pain and accepting it is one way to help to start to heal it. The example I like to use is similar to the concept of a smoke detector in the house. The smoke detector will go off if there is smoke or fire in the house. If we just go up to the detector and put a towel up to it to silence it, the fire just gets louder in the house. This is what’s happening in our bodies when we try to ignore the symptoms.
Feel into the pain: Find a quiet place to just be present and bring your awareness inward. Begin to notice how your body feels physically and what emotions may be coming up. This is going to intensify things and bring them up to the surface. And though this may be uncomfortable, it’s a vital part of healing. Taking deep breaths, focusing on softening with the deep inhalation and exhalation will help to center yourself and tune into the messages your body is sending. Try not to analyze, judge it or ask why. Focus on what you feel—that’s where the pain’s stuck. Meaningful messages may begin to come to you and these messages may help to guide you through the process. Be open to the messages coming up. If you change the mindset of how you view the pain as simply a warning, you’re allowing your mind and your body, to start the process of letting go of the pain. When you are in the relaxed, mindful state, say to yourself mentally “I let go”
Feel sensations other than pain: When we have been stuck in a pain cycle for so long, it’s hard to see past the pain. But try to feel other sensations rather than pain. One sensation I like to have patients become aware of is tension. Many are often completely unaware of tension in their body. As you take deep breaths in and out, and your body begins to soften, feel where your body feels heavy. Imagine in your mind’s eye, breathing into that area of your body, imagining it softening. Sometimes patients use visual cues, like colors or objects to help them feel into their body. Imagine the color or the object changing into something softer. Be kind to yourself. It’s OK if you don’t sense a difference right away, keep practicing with patience, you’ll get there. It's not quick and easy to overcome chronic pain—but every little release counts as you enhance your connection with yourself.
If you were able to figure it out, you would have figured it out already: It won’t happen overnight, and I can’t tell you how long it will take. Take any pressure off yourself to feel something right away. Be patient. We are here to help you through the process as part of your team. Keep noticing what you feel, be open, and trust your body’s amazing ability to heal. By listening to and understanding our pain, from its origin to its manifestation, we can begin to heal from the inside out
I have been amazed with how effective this can be. Trust the process.
Lauren Cadman, PT
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