No one wants to deal with ongoing pain. When left untreated, it can prevent you from enjoying everyday moments and cause you to feel absolutely hopeless.
But have you ever thought about why we experience pain?
As Sarah Warren explains in The Pain Relief Secret, pain is a natural response that actually serves to protect us from greater harm. But when pain continues or becomes unmanageable, it can make life a nightmare.
Luckily, there are measures you can take to overcome pain and take back control of your life.
Learn the Secret of Pain Relief
With this book, you’ll learn why you feel pain and how pain functions so you can better understand it and manage or eliminate it using somatic practices.
If you or someone you love has been desperately seeking pain relief with little success, try the methods outlined in The Pain Relief Secret and experience a world of greater comfort.
The Pain Relief Secret: An Exclusive Book Preview
Please enjoy this exclusive excerpt from The Pain Relief Secret:
Why Do We Feel Pain?
A life without pain might sound very appealing, especially to someone who suffers from chronic pain. But feeling pain is essential to our survival. Most of us learn quickly through experience to avoid harmful or dangerous stimuli because we know they will elicit the unpleasant sensation of pain.
As you grow up, pain modifies your behavior without you even realizing it. Yet as an adult, you likely hear messages that contradict your instinct to avoid pain.
Coaches tell you to be tough and play through the pain. Doctors tell you that pain is a part of getting older, and you think you just have to live with it.
So your behavior can be modified in the opposite way as well; you can learn to ignore the sensation of pain to the point that you do structural damage to your body.
What Causes Pain?
Pain is your nervous system’s way of telling you that something is wrong. It often means that actual damage to the structure of your body is likely to occur soon. This type of pain is called nociceptive pain.
Feeling pain can also mean that something is abnormal in the way that your nervous system is processing the sensation of pain. You experience neuroplastic pain when your nervous system becomes oversensitive as a result of being in chronic pain.
You can also experience pain when structural damage is done to your nervous system. This type of pain, called neuropathic pain, can result from an injury, autoimmune disorder, genetic condition, degenerative disease, stroke, vitamin deficiency, infection, toxins, diabetes, or alcoholism.
Let’s start by talking about nociceptive pain, the type that occurs when your physical body is being damaged or at risk of being damaged.
Sometimes pain arises from internal sources like chronically tight muscles. Tight muscles can feel achy, sore, and sometimes extremely painful, especially if a muscle is in spasm.
It might not seem like tight muscles would put your life in danger, but they do, and your nervous system knows it.
In normal movement, your muscles contract and release, contract and release, over and over again. When muscles release and get a chance to rest, metabolic wastes are flushed out of your muscles, making the pain go away and restoring full function.
However, when your muscles are in a constant state of contraction, as often results from stress and repetitive activities, this recycling process can’t happen efficiently.
When muscles are held in a state of contraction for too long, constant compression of the blood vessels leads to ischemia, a condition in which lack of oxygen and nutrients can lead to pain, loss of function, cell damage, and even cell death.
So if muscle pain resulting from constant contraction is what you’re feeling—which it most likely is, since this is the cause of most chronic muscle pain—then your pain should go away when your muscles release and oxygen flow is restored.
Now you understand the mechanical reasons why tight muscles hurt. As for the evolutionary purpose of this type of pain, consider the consequences of chronically tight muscles.
First, lack of blood flow can lead to cell death. Second, tight muscles restrict movement, meaning you’ll have a harder time moving quickly and defending yourself if attacked.
Lastly, tight muscles and the dysfunctional movement patterns that go along with them often cause structural damage to muscles, connective tissues, joints, and bones.
Considering all the potential damage that tight muscles can cause, it’s no wonder that your nervous system want you to pay attention to it, and do so through the sensation of pain.
Until recently, the nervous system was thought to be hardwired to sense and perceive pain in a predictable, unchanging way.
We now know that changes within your nervous system affect the way you experience pain. Pain you feel as a result of these adaptations is called neuroplastic pain.
The longer inflammation continues, or the more often an injury is repeated, the more sensitive your nociceptors become. The resulting state of hypersensitivity, called peripheral sensitization, describes adaptive changes that occur in the PNS that increase the amount of pain you feel.
Peripheral sensitization contributes to the conditions of hyperalgesia and allodynia. If you experience hyperalgesia, your nociceptors respond more strongly than usual to potentially damaging stimuli.
Your nociceptors correctly sense a threat, but they sense it to be much greater than it actually is, prompting you to scream in response to stubbing your toe instead of letting out a more appropriate “ouch!”
The process of sensitization plays a role in the transition from acute to chronic pain. Adaptations in your brain, spinal cord, and peripheral nerves can outlast the original injury and lead to structural changes, which include the sprouting of new nerve endings and the formation of new synapses between neurons.
Once structural changes have occurred in your nervous system, pain can persist even if little or no damage is being done to the tissues of your body. In this way, painful injuries that linger can cause you to feel more pain in the future, even after the injury heals.
While you can’t change the fact that your nervous system maladaptively responds to pain, you can use this knowledge to reduce your chances of developing chronic pain, and to reverse chronic pain if you have it. When you become injured, have surgery, or develop chronic pain, you should be cautious about doing things that make the pain worse.
This doesn’t mean that you should lie immobile on the couch or overmedicate yourself to avoid feeling the pain. In most cases, movement is necessary for optimal healing, and overuse of pain medications can bring about a host of other problems that can be far worse.
But it’s important to understand that the more often your nociceptors are stimulated, the more sensitization is likely to occur. So, running on an already injured and painful knee will not only damage the joint further, but may also increase the amount of pain you feel in the future.
Neuropathic pain is caused by damaged nerves sending incorrect signals to other parts of the nervous system. Symptoms include tingling, numbness, and shooting or burning pain.
There are more than 100 potential causes of nerve damage, including physical trauma, autoimmune disorders, genetic conditions, degenerative diseases, stroke, vitamin deficiencies, infections, toxins, and alcoholism.
Unlike peripheral nerves, damaged nerves in the spinal cord face many challenges. The environment surrounding spinal nerve cells is hostile to regeneration, because it contains proteins that cause nerves to grow in the wrong direction and others that prevent nerve growth.
Scientists have developed a technique that combines stem cells—which produce substances that promote nerve growth—with biomaterials. This method forms guidance channels within the spinal cord, creating a hospitable environment for neural regeneration and allowing spinal nerves to grow in the right directions.
Another promising approach involves using polyethylene glycol–based biomaterials to fuse cell membranes at the site of the injury. This method repairs physical damage, reduces scar formation, and promotes nerve cell regeneration.
These techniques offer a great deal of hope for people with pain and/or limited mobility resulting from spinal nerve damage.
Emotions and Pain
Pain can be a confusing experience for anyone, and it becomes even more so when you consider how the sensation is created. While it feels like a bodily experience, that experience is actually created by your brain.
The emotional parts of your brain, including the anterior cingulate cortex, the insular cortex, and the amygdala, are responsible for the unpleasantness that comes with pain. The more those areas are activated, the worse your experience of pain becomes.
Anticipating pain before it occurs can also worsen your experience of pain. Have you ever exclaimed “ouch!” immediately after stubbing your toe, before actually feeling the pain?
You’ve seen your toe hit the corner of the coffee table, felt the pressure of the corner against your toe, reflexively yanked your foot away, and possibly uttered a four-letter word—all before feeling the sensation of pain.
The anticipation, often intensified by the memory of past toe stubs, is enough to make you react as if you’re actually feeling pain. When your emotions get involved, your experience of pain is heightened.
Natural Pain Relief: Endogenous Opioids and the Placebo Effect
During the 1970s, several groups of scientists identified specific nerve endings that are receptors for opium and its derivatives. These opioid receptors are located throughout the CNS and PNS, but are most concentrated in areas of the brain that process pain information.
This discovery immediately raised an important question: Why would the brain contain receptors for substances derived from the opium poppy? The obvious answer was that the body must naturally produce substances with a chemical structure similar to opioids.
The race was on to find these substances, and within two years researchers had isolated endogenous opioids, the most famous of which were named endorphins (a contraction of “endogenous,” meaning naturally occurring, and “morphine”).
In addition to blocking pain sensations, endogenous opioids have since been found to play roles in appetite, mood control, immune response, and regulation of sex hormones.
Your natural analgesics serve an evolutionary purpose: They allow you to run fast or lift heavy objects even if you’re injured. But what about acute stress that isn’t life-threatening?
The “Runner’s High”
It turns out that exercise elicits the same stress response, triggering the release of endogenous opioids that act in numerous areas of the brain, spinal cord, and peripheral nerves to dull pain and produce a sense of euphoria.
While this well-known “runner’s high” is a great incentive to exercise, it can numb the pain that should signal an injured athlete to stop and rest. Stories abound of athletes like Kerri Strug and Manteo Mitchell who kept going in spite of an injury that would normally cause crippling pain.
Looking for a way to get a runner’s high without exerting any effort? Try acupuncture. The ancient Chinese technique of inserting needles into specific points on the body stimulates the release of natural opioids, providing relief from pain.
Acupuncture also helps improve a variety of other conditions that use opioids as neurotransmitters, such as depression, immune system disorders, and sexual dysfunction.
The Placebo Effect
Endogenous opioids help demystify another phenomenon as well: the placebo effect.
Placebos, traditionally sugar pills, bread pills, or colored water, were often given instead of pharmaceuticals to patients during the 19th century as a way to calm and comfort them.
The benefits of placebos were widely accepted, but the effects were thought to be psychological in nature. Researchers used to believe that placebos had a stronger effect on patients who were less intelligent and more neurotic, but we know today that this isn’t true.
Recently, brain-imaging studies have shown that opioid release and placebo administration activate the same areas of the brain. Statistically, the placebo effect accounts for about 50% of a medication’s effectiveness.
So for reasons that are not yet fully understood, simply believing that your pain will go away is enough to stimulate your natural pain-relieving mechanisms.
Grab Your Copy
Want to learn more? Order your copy of Sarah Warren’s Pain Relief Secret and discover how you can control and eliminate your pain today.
If you enjoyed this post, then you might also like:
- 5 Best Mindfulness Books for Reducing Stress and Living with More Calm
- 5 Life-Changing Benefits of Practicing Mindfulness
- How to Practice Mindfulness: A Beginner’s Guide
- 15 Inspiring Meditation Podcasts
Latest posts by Kaelyn Barron (see all)
- The Culture Code Review: Examining Daniel Coyle’s Guide to Successful Teams - March 21, 2020
- How to Decline a Job Offer Gracefully (with Examples) - March 19, 2020
- How to Write a Blog Post: A 12-Step Guide for Beginners - March 11, 2020