Pain is a part of the human condition. Where does it come from? Why do we have it? Why do some people have more pain or seem to suffer more deeply? True, these are fascinating questions but most of us just want to know how to get rid of or deal with it when it comes along.
Pain is a major problem in this country, costing annually $4 billion in various medications, surgeries and other kinds of treatments. The pain alone is not just the problem. The side effects of chronic pain can become a vicious cycle that repeats itself -- leading to a sedentary lifestyle, seclusion, depression or addiction to various painkillers that can be as devastating as the pain itself.
All pain whether chronic or acute, physical or emotional, is recognized and interpreted, then acted upon by the brain. Therefore, it really is in our head in spite of ''feeling'' the sensation and experiencing the injury in another part of the body. An interesting example of the phenomenon of pain is the individual that suffers from phantom limb pain- the pain that is still felt in a limb that is no longer there.
A simple yet radical solution to the issue of phantom pain that supports the concept that our pain is in the mind is the mirrored box. In a certain small percentage of amputees phantom pain continues to be a debilitating condition just as any other chronic pain. When all other forms of pain relief have been utilized without success the mirrored box has time and again proven to be effective. To use the mirrored box the individual places the remaining arm in a box lined with a mirror, then moves and stretches the hand while observing the movement. The mirror gives the mind's eye the interpretation that the other extremity is still present, that all is well and the pain is relieved.
Another simple example the role our mind plays in pain control: let's say you have a headache. It's been nagging at you all day without relief. You leave work to go home for the evening. Tired and distracted you unfortunately slam your finger in the car door. The next time you remember you had a headache the headache is no longer there!
This leaves us with some conclusions that can help us understand pain and deal with it more effectively. One, our perception of our pain will directly effect how well we deal with our pain and, two, we have more power to control our pain than what we may have originally thought.
I'm sure some of you are thinking by now that I'm saying you should ignore your pain; actually it's quite the opposite. Pain is the messenger being sent at the time of injury that something is wrong; do something to correct it -- not ignore it! If we only had a mirrored box for every kind of pain or injury we endure. Wouldn't that be a laugh on the drug companies!
The message we should send ourselves is one of kindness and acceptance towards our injuries or illness. Unfortunately, most of us see illness and injury as a major inconvenience and send angry messages that will not help us heal. Just as in the experiment with the mirrored box, the mind needs calm reassuring messages that things are okay.
Many individuals use a kind of mirrored box for pain control known as guided imagery. Guided imagery utilizes a calmed centered mind (similar to that of hypnosis) to create mental images of ourselves healthy and pain free, to ''remind the mind'' of how we want to be.
Is it all in your head? Probably, but that doesn't mean you may not need physical solutions to physical pain. It does mean you probably have more control than what you might think!
Next week, in part two, I'll look at some natural solutions to pain and talk about trying to get to the bottom of what's really causing all that pain!
Till next time, Rebecca
The mystery of pain
Last week, I looked at the part the mind plays in the perception of pain and its control. This week I'd like to take a look at various natural pain relievers and how they work. Before I begin, it's important to understand that there are many substances, vitamins, minerals, amino acids, herbs and supplements that relieve pain. It is key to remember that natural substances work to relieve pain when they are in concert with a lack or need in the body. A natural anti-inflammatory works when inflammation is the cause of the pain. Magnesium may work in cases of chest pain when the heart muscle is lacking this mineral, and so on. Therefore, it will be important as best you can to understand the underlying cause of your pain.
Supplements that fight pain: Tyrosine and dl-phenylalanine, or DLPA, are amino acids that can be very powerful pain relievers. The body uses Tyrosine to make various neurotransmitters such as epinephrine and norepinephrine that play a role in elevating mood and keeping us alert. DLPA has been used effectively since 1978. It works to protect the brain's supply of endorphins. Endorphins are our body's natural morphines. Original studies showed DLPA to have a significant effect on pain in three of ten patients. DLPA has helped many individuals overcome longstanding intractable pain yet remains seldom used -- not a profitable drug?
Glucosamine sulfate is another amino acid that is particularly helpful in conditions of arthritis pain. Present in our joints in large quantities when we are young (lessens with age) glucosamine keeps our joint rubbery and soft and less prone to injury. This substance has actually been show to help reverse cartilage and joint deterioration from osteoarthritis.
Fish oils and other oils such as flax or primrose oil that contain omega-3 fatty acids have been studied extensively and have generated a great deal of excitement in the scientific community for their ability to relieve conditions of painful arthritis, lupus and other potentially fatal autoimmune diseases. Study after study has proven their effectiveness in relieving tender joints, muscle pain and morning stiffness.
Vitamins that fight pain: As a whole the entire group of B vitamins are beneficial to healing and health. Vitamins B1, 3, 6 and 12 are overlooked sources of natural pain relief. B1 is particularly helpful for patients with neuritis or shooting pains in the legs related to liver disease and diabetic neuropathy. B3 is a potent anti-arthritis supplement that in some cases dramatically increases joint mobility. B6 helps reduce the inflammation of arthritis and has been used with exercise to relieve carpal tunnel syndrome without resorting to surgery. B12 has been shown to help relieve back pain and pain associated with nerve dysfunction. Vitamin C is a wonderful anti-inflammatory that is good for all kinds of pain associated with inflammation.
Minerals that fight pain: Magnesium has been used to successfully treat many painful states including headache, muscle aches, arthritis, migraines and the painful symptoms of PMS. Magnesium, one of the three most missing minerals in our diet, balances calcium and plays several roles in the formation of hormones and other important chemicals. Selenium, another natural anti-inflammatory, works well to relieve long-standing muscle pain, stiffness and aching. Boron, a little known or used mineral, plays an important role in bone health -- keeping calcium in the bones and preventing the pain associated with osteoarthritis.
Herbs that fight pain: Natures' pharmacy contains many plants that work to relieve pain. Some of my personal favorites are ginger, nettle leaf, turmeric and cayenne. All these herbs contain plant chemicals that have anti-inflammatory properties. There are many others but these have very broad application and very few side effects.
Some things to remember: Natural therapies usually take longer than medications. The pay off comes when not only has the pain improved but the condition causing the pain has improved as well. Take only high quality supplements. Very important! Don't begin taking several things at once. One may be working while the other is exacerbating symptoms. Nothing will replace your body's need for clean healthy foods and good water, nothing! Nothing will replace the need for sound sleep, clean air, some time to play, joy and laughter and the hope that some day things will be better.
Till next time, Rebecca.