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Natural Ways To Reduce Chronic Pain

Updated on February 15, 2016

Deep breathing and relaxation helps release muscle tension throughout the body

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Effects of Chronic Pain

As per medical definition, "Pain is an unpleasant sensation localized to a part of our body". It is both a sensation and an emotion. Severe pain is accompanied by anxiety and an urge to escape from the feeling. Acute pain results from injury to a specific part of the body, while chronic pain persists over extended periods of time, and may or may not be caused by an injury, illness or disease.

Individuals suffering from the pain of any part of the body, and due to whatever cause, frequently take too many pain relieving medicines, stay in bed a great deal, would have visited many clinicians, loose skills and do not find pleasure with anything, neither work nor social activities. The person would lay focus on his pain to the extent of exclusion of other thoughts and activities. Social interactions may suffer a setback when people suffering from chronic pain communicate their discomfort to others. Physically the person would develop a habit of avoiding certain movements or tensing muscles in painful areas. This puts a compensatory stress on other muscles and nerves and then causes pain in other areas.

A long list of pain subsiding medicines, including sedatives, result in adverse consequences, such as irritability and depressed mood when taken on a long-term basis. Treatment failures provoke anger and depression, and the pain syndrome is further exacerbated. The longer the existence of pain disorder, more pronounced are the effects of anxiety and depression.

Factors that signify a psychological cause of pain

  • Multiple unrelated sites affected.
  • A pattern of repeated but different pain problems that begin in childhood or teenage.
  • The onset after emotional trauma.
  • Past or present abuse.
  • Substance abuse.

Causes of Chronic Pain

Some of the major conditions that lead to chronic pain include the following;

  1. Diseases that are characteristically painful, and for which there is no complete cure, such as cancer, arthritis, fibromyalgia, migraine headaches and diabetic neuropathy.
  2. Damage caused during the disease process that persists after the disease has resolved. This includes damage to the sensory nerves, sympathetic nervous system and painful reflex muscle contractions.
  3. Psychological problems such as depression, that can initiate or aggravate pain sensations.

Therapies to Reduce Chronic Pain

The most important step in this process is, to identify specific and realistic functional goals rather than hoping for a dramatic complete resolution. The initial steps should aim at getting a good night's sleep, being able to go for shopping or returning to work. The various therapeutic approaches for this purpose include the following:

  1. Pharmacological approach: This consists of the use of antidepressants, anticonvulsants, and antiarrhythmic medicines. Painful conditions that respond to antidepressants include post-herpetic neuralgia, diabetic neuropathy, tension headache, migraine, chronic lower back pain and cancer-associated pain.
  2. Behavioral approach: This involves various attention diversion techniques that aim at diverting focus from pain and suffering caused by it, with or without use of instruments, in order to attain a state of well-being Different therapies used for this purpose include the following:

Relaxation

With deep breathing and relaxation you are able to release muscle tension throughout the body, and distract your attention from the painful focus. For this purpose, the affected person needs to lie down straight, either on a mat on the ground or on the bed. His or her entire body should be relaxed, arms by the side, with palmar surface of hands facing upwards, and legs slightly apart. With his eyes closed, the person should take slow, deep breaths, and feel the flow of air in and out of his lungs. His mind should be relaxed and should not wander. This controlled deep breathing has to be continued for a few minutes, after which the attention diversion therapies can be started.

Guided imagery helps provide a mental escape from the actual painful situation

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Guided Imagery

This is a way of focusing your imagination towards creating pleasant, calm and peaceful images in your mind, in order to provide a "mental escape" from the actual painful and unbearable situation. It involves all senses and emotions to create a state of equilibrium, and help a person cope with his pain. In this therapy a person's inner strength is used to fight out his pain. Heart rate, blood pressure and breathing can fluctuate during this therapy, so the proper technique should be learned from a qualified practitioner or therapist, after which it can be practiced at home. This various techniques used for guided imagery include the following :

  1. Altered focus : In this therapy, the focus of attention is shifted from the ailing part to some other healthy region of body, and the person is made to feel an altered pleasant sensation in that region. As for example, if you suffer from lower back pain, imagine your hand warming up. This will take your mind away from the pain.
  2. Dissociation : This technique involves mentally separating the painful area from rest of the body, and pushing away the suffering, for example, a person with shoulder pain is made to imagine his painful shoulder lying besides the pillow, and tell it to stay there and not to come back to join the rest of his body.
  3. Sensory splitting : This method involves dividing the pain into several sub-sensations that are felt, for example in post herpetic neuralgia, a severe stabbing pain is felt, along with burning, and sensation of pins and needles. In sensory splitting, the entire focus is laid on sensation of burning, and not on the hurt.
  4. Mental anesthesia : In this, you are made to imagine an injection of anesthetic solution being given to the affected area, and also feel the area getting numb slowly, or a cooling ice pack being placed on the area of pain.
  5. Mental analgesia : In this technique, the sufferer has to imagine a pain reliever being injected into the area of pain, and to actually feel a gradual reduction in the intensity of pain, that would have occurred with such an injection, or he can be made to imagine a stream of pleasant sensations flowing out of his brain to the affected area.
  6. Transfer : In this, the sufferer is made to imagine his non-painful hand becoming warm, cold or numb, and is then made to place this hand on the affected area. With this, the person imagines a transfer of pleasant altered sensations to the diseased area.
  7. Age progression or regression : With this technique, the person imagines himself in his past, may be 10 or 20 years back, when he was pain free, or 10-20 years ahead when he expects himself to be alright, and then live with the feeling of being in that healthy state of mind.
  8. Symbolic imagery : In this technique, the person imagines his pain to be an object, such as a loud bleating radio or a high voltage light bulb, and is then made to imagine himself gradually reducing the volume or dim the light, thereby reduce the pain.
  9. Counting : With this, the sufferer counts his own breaths, the number of times he inhales a stream of air, and the number of times he exhales it out, or the number of printed tiles on the floor, in order to divert his attention from the pain.
  10. Positive imagery : The sufferer is made to imagine himself at a beach, going to mountains, or near a stream of gurgling water, and to actually feel the salty sea breeze or the scent of flowers.
  11. Pain movement : In this method, the person imagines himself shifting his pain from the affected area to some other place where it can be better tolerated, as for example he has to imagine a severe headache move into his hand, and from there into the air and get out of his body.

Initially these pain alleviating techniques should be practiced for at least half an hour thrice a week. With regular practice, the person can attain pain control for longer periods after each session. Severe anxiety and apprehension can increase pain perception, prolong recovery time after a surgery, and reduce overall immunity. Guided imagery helps attain deep relaxation and creates a positive attitude that helps a person recover better from his suffering.

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