Everyone understands pain. Life is filled with pain, so we’ve been feeling it since the moment we entered this world. But understanding chronic pain is another thing entirely. We grow to understand that pain is temporary. And then, chronic pain teaches us a new lesson. This type of pain may have an ebb and flow, but it never really goes away.
Chronic pain can be debilitating, and it impacts the body as well as the mind.
Pain is a stressor that threatens your overall wellbeing. Because of this, the body quickly responds with physiological changes to help heal the wound. But if the injury doesn’t heal, the body is in a constant state of stress.
How the body responds to pain
When you’re in pain, the body is hard at work. It’s the body’s job to keep you from feeling pain and to heal, so the pain doesn’t become permanent.
Transduction is the first stage of pain. It’s when the pain stimulus is sent through a nerve impulse. There are receptors on the surface of your nerve endings. These are called nociceptors, and they respond to pain with chemical changes that result in an electrical impulse. A large stimulus creates a higher frequency, which we feel as intense pain.
At this point, the body gets to work trying to mitigate the pain. I do this by releasing mediators like prostaglandin, serotonin, substance P, bradykinin and histamine.
This is when the body initiates the inflammatory response. It’s an essential part of healing.
Unfortunately, when the stimulus that’s causing pain doesn’t go away, neither does the inflammation. And chronic inflammation can cause more serious problems over time.
Chronic inflammation has been linked to cancers of the of the lung, esophagus, cervix and digestive tract. It can impact your sleep, immune system, and overall health. Unfortunately, chronic pain always leads to chronic inflammation – and this can spell disaster for your overall health.
Let’s remember that pain is the body’s way of telling us that something is wrong. Don’t ignore the signal or there may be consequences that are greater than your initial pain.
How pain causes emotional trauma
When you’re in pain, it’s impossible to live your best life. If you’re dealing with chronic pain, you’re probably turning down invitations to social events and avoiding physical activity because of your pain. This can take a toll on your emotional health. It can also lead to depression, which will further isolate you from the outside world. The greater the pain, the more emotional trauma you will likely experience.
What to do about pain
If you’re suffering from chronic pain, it can feel extremely hopeless. Fortunately, things aren’t as impossible as they feel. There are ways to address your chronic pain without resorting to prescription painkillers.
Here are a few things to investigate:
Treating the root cause of pain – This is a step that everyone should do. Before you can address your pain, you need to know what’s causing it. This may be easy for some and difficult for others. But you must resolve to find a solution.
Finding alternative treatments – When all else seems to be failing, try something new. Consider stem cell treatment, acupuncture or biofeedback. These treatments may not be the most commonly used treatments for chronic pain, but there’s research to support their use. Talk your doctor about which treatment works for you.
Meditation – Meditation has been proven to change the brain’s response to pain. Start with a simple breath awareness meditation to get yourself familiar with the process. Your goal while meditating is to bring your mind into the present moment. You can acknowledge your pain, but try not to dwell on the emotion it causes. Whenever you feel your mind wandering, bring it back to your breath. Meditate for 5 minutes every day until you feel comfortable with the process. You can increase the time by 5-minute increments until you reach 30 minutes.
Meditation won’t heal the root cause of your issue, but it can reframe how your brain responds to pain. For this reason, it shouldn’t be the only treatment you try, but it can help you feel more comfortable as you investigate solutions.
There’s no way around the truth. Pain equates to stress. The pain stimulus causes stress on the body as the body attempts to mediate the pain. And it causes stress to the mind as you try to live a normal life without letting pain hold you back.