100 million is the estimated number of Americans who live with chronic pain.
Special nerve endings in our body can distinguish pain signals from other signals. These nerve endings send messages to our spinal cord. That’s why you yank your hand from the fire without thinking, “That’s hot.” – Your cerebral cortex thinks about the pain and decides what to do. (WebMD July/Aug 2018p.76,77)
Your nerves, spine and brain constantly message each other to determine how you feel the pain. – Your limbic system responds with emotion: anger, fear, frustration, or even relief.
Your brainstem controls your automonic functions (functions in your body that occur without you thinking about them) like breathing and heart rate that can change in response to pain. It’s a feedback system in your body designed to keep you healthy.
People who deal with chronic pain show actual heightened activity between a certain network of brain regions and the insula, a “receiving station” for sensory input (Arthritis Today Sept./Oct. 2018) according to Neil Basu, PhD, senior lecturer and acedemic rheumatologist at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland. These changes are referred to as “pro-pain” effects. These changes stem from alterations in the central nervous system (CNS) – the brain and spinal cord – where the pain signals are processed.
Pain is designed to be a defense mechanism for our body. It tells us that something is wrong. Something needs our attention. Something needs to be fixed – but there is no doubt that pain causes stress. Stress causes our body to release hormones designed to protect us from short term stress – such as a bear trying to attack our family. Obviously, neither long term pain or long term stress is good for us, our physchological health or our body’s general well being.
You probably have some kind of pain every day says Xavier Jimenex, M.D. director of the chronic pain rehabiliation program at Cleveland Clinic – back pain, headache, and neck pain, in that order. In fact, one in 10 American adults has been uncomfortable continuously for the past 3 months, according to a 2015 report. And – wouldn’t you know it? – women tend to feel pain more often, longer and with a greater intensity than men, says Stanford University pain psychologist Beth Darnall, Ph,D. “That’s partly because sex hormones like estrogen and progesterone pay a role in how we experience pain,” she says. (Good Housekeeping Aug./2018 p.85)
There are options for pain relief. Some are “natural” others are “manufactured.”
The standard American diet tends to include lots of unprocessed carbohydrates, unhealthy fats and processed foods. Intake of these foods increases cytokines which will boost inflammation and make you susceptible to chronic pain says Robert E. Sorge, Ph.D., a psyhologist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
Lack of sleep will impact your pain. When you suffer from migrains, acid reflus, fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis and other conditions your lack of sleep increases the inflammation in your body and that will boost how much pain you feel explains Thomas Roth, Ph.D., director of the Sleep Disorders and Research Center at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit.
Your view of your pain can affect the intensity of your pain. When you focus all of your attention and energy on how much your pain hurts it can tell your brain that the pain’s intensity is overwhelming your ability to deal with it. You therefore become anxious and feel helpless to deal with not only the pain but your ability to relieve the pain.
So, flip your thoughts and create new experiences around your pain. I am not suggesting that you ignore your pain signals, I’m just saying that thinking differently about an expeirnce, including pain, can lead you into exploring new pathway which will send a different signal about your pain to your brain. (Good Housekeeping Aug. 2018)
Obviously, intense and/or chronic pain needs attention. That may come in the form of prescribed medication, long term physical therapy, intense exercise or a prescribed alternate relaxation method. There are a handful of products available today that can assist you in dealing with your pain. One is joining a medical clinical trial program. Clinical trials are the heart of medical advances and the success of these trials hinges on the participation of people like you. (RA Today Vol. 10, Issue 2)
The news surrounding opioid addiction has been in the forefront of the media.
In 2016. more than 214 million prescriptions were written and filled for opioids. 83% of prescription opioid-related deaths are unintended/accidental. However, prescriptions opioids can be helpful in managing chronic pain. An opioid overdose emergency occurs when there are so many opioid molecules in the brain that they overwhelm the brain receptors and block the body’s drive to breathe – this is life threatening. (Adapt Pharma 2018) An article in Brain & Life (Aug/Sept 2018 p.23) suggests that medical providers should prescribe pain relief medication for immediate relief and not extended-release or long-acting. The re-evaluation for patient care should occur within 4 weeks and then again at 3 months.
Whatever path you choose for your pain relief make sure that it fits your needs and it works to relieve the intensity and inflammation that accompanies chronic pain. Also pay attention to your pain signals – they are telling your that something in your body isn’t working as it should – it needs attention. Remember, you are in charge of you!