Although pain is uncomfortable and undesirable, pain is a safety signal that assists in preserving the body’s integrity. Pain does not always equal harm and can be good to signal the approach of the body’s limitation with a particular motion. It is a complex, changeable, and reversible process; the body can be retrained so that activity can be enjoyed without the undesirable discomfort. There are five key factors that can be impacted by and can influence pain, especially in chronic or severe pain: awareness, sleep, mood, activity and nutrition.
In situations of chronic pain where there is no current injury, the pain system has become hypervigilant and one could say that the body has gotten too good at protecting the system, and thus sends off unnecessary signals of danger which are interpreted as pain. Pain does not equal UNSAFE. Use discretion and common sense to gauge an unsafe activity. Still, pain is a sign that something needs to change. Don’t ignore your body!
This brief video may further elucidate this process of chronic pain https://www.tamethebeast.org/#tame-the-beast
Calming the nervous system can promote rest, which is essential to rejuvenate and repair tissues. In the same vein, fatigue and insomnia exacerbate chronic pain that unfortunately prevents restful sleep. In order to stop this cycle it is important to incorporate sleep hygiene principles. Our naturopathic team can assist with chronic sleep issues that both involve and do not involve pain. Often there is a relationship to stress and adrenal dysfunction that contributes to a sleep issue and a chronic pain pattern. Naturopathic medicine is especially equipped to get to the root of these issues in a truly wholistic manner.
Oftentimes when there is chronic pain, we do less and less. Less movement and exercise then impacts mood further complicating the cycle of increased pain. This feedback loop is best nipped in the bud before it takes a strong hold and creates problems with your day-to-day activities. Increasing settling and pleasurable activities such as meditation or relaxation techniques help not only with anxiety and depression but also in reducing pain, creating a positive impact on overall mood and quality of life. This process can take a conscious commitment to get over the hump. Our naturopathic team not only helps with pain, but also with chronic mood issues.
A way to think about beginning or resuming physical activity, is to perhaps think of it as “moving more”, rather than “exercise”. It is crucial to expect a gradual recovery since often the injury and the subsequent pain began months-to-years ago; it may take the body time to recognize that pain is not inherently dangerous when doing innocuous movement or common activities. The best thing to do when getting back into activities is to work slowly on a regular basis as to avoid flare ups. Many times it is good to have a support group or an accountability partner during this time of change. For example, find a friend to walk with, or a group to go to the gym or yoga with and make it a social outing. Also remember that new activities may create soreness but that doesn’t always mean it is causing harm. The more frequently you engage in gentle activity, the better you’ll feel over time.
A “bad” diet pours gas on the fire or, in this case, pain whereas a “good” diet puts out the fire. A “bad” diet consists mostly of Prostaglandin E-2 producing foods like processed, high sugar, or carb-heavy foods that increase inflammation and induce pain. Whereas a “good” diet consists of Prostaglandin E-1 producing foods like colorful vegetables, healthy oils such as olive and avocado, and proteins like organic, grass-fed meats, poultry and nuts that work to decrease inflammation and promote healing. Changing dietary habits is a difficult transition but is not impossible. We like to say that it takes time to learn anything, so don’t beat yourself up for not implementing perfect meals from day one.
Some important things to consider when transitioning to a healthier diet include: Keeping an honest 7-day diet diary to record all foods and beverages consumed, addressing barriers to better eating, or seeking assistance to explore knowledge of healthy eating and cooking. There are countless YouTube videos, cookbooks, and websites dedicated to easy healthy recipes. Watch for a cooking class with our naturopathic doctors soon!
Focus on small feasible steps that will work within your current life situation to establish healthy habits and prevent an exacerbating high activity-pain cycle.
Consult your NDs, Dr. Erin and Dr. Laura! We are here to help troubleshoot and support you through this process of healing and getting out of the pain cycle. We also have many therapies to help with acute pain flare-ups, reduce inflammation, and to support overall healing. Let us be a guide to support you in this pivotal transition towards a healthy pain-free life.