Pain - The Ultimate Messenger
Chronic Pain Self-Management - a test
How effective are you at managing your pain?
With pain, we still have to get on with life, in particular, according to the Pain Association Scotland, across the following areas :-
Dealing with others
Dealing with difficult thoughts and feelings
Being able to deal with problems positively
Managing the stressors in our lives
Being able to relax
Pacing ourselves - knowing when to rest, take time out
Dealing with flare-ups in our pain levels
Understanding the effects of pain on life
Understanding what alters pain
Understanding the role of medication
Take the Chronic Pain Self-Management Skills test here
What I find intriguing about the above areas is that there is know mention of : -
Knowing and understanding the causes of your pain which is the biggest issue I have had in four years of living with chronic pain - no medical person actually takes time to explore what the underlying causes of pain might be. More is written elsewhere on this page about this.
And there is a difference between "coping" and "managing."
1.to struggle or deal with, especially on fairly even terms or with some degree of success
2.to face and deal with responsibilities, problems, or difficulties
1. to bring about or succeed in accomplishing, sometimes despite difficulty or hardship
2. to take charge or care of:
“Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” C.S. Lewis
Pain has a purpose – Pain doesn’t just show up in your life for no reason or the pure hell of it. It’s a sign that somewhere in life, in your body, something is out of balance, something in your life needs to change.
Pain is not to be quickly palliated though most of us would find that a natural first point of call. That's OK provided we don't just then ignore the pain as messenger and think "business as usual."
The change that pain is signalling you to take, takes strength and sometimes courage to deal with. But remember, it’s not that those who are strong never get weak in the knees, or that they never gasp for a breath, or strongly hold in their emotions at all costs.
It’s that while their knees are shaking, they force themselves to breathe and to take another step, and then another. It's when they are feeling, they notice where they are feeling in their body, they lean into it rather than to deny it. They find healthy ways to express their emotions.
They seek help for sometimes working through the pain by hard exercise is not always the right thing to do.
Obesity and Pain
Overweight and/or obese people experience 20% more pain regardless of any disease being present. The National Institute of Health in America defines obesity as a BMI (Body Mass Index) over 30%, which is equivalent to 30 pounds of overweight. As BMI climbs to 35-39%, pain levels increase by 136%, and those people with a BMI over 40 have shown an increase in pain levels by up to 254%!
Obesity and pain go hand in hand. Many chronic conditions that cause pain are also more common in people who are overweight and/or obese. Some of these conditions include arthritis, depression, fibromyalgia, type-2 diabetes as well as back and joint pain.
What we hope ever to do with ease, we must first learn to do with diligence.
– Samuel Johnson
And no more so is this appropriate than in the treatment and management of our pain.
It’s the 31st August and I am listening to a radio phone-in on BBC Radio Scotland; it is about pain – the different names for pain, the different kinds of pain, how it manifests, what it feels like. But few are the callers who get onto the subject of the causes of pain and the programme host does not facilitate questions on the topic of cause.
In three years of regularly attending the NHS Pain Management Clinic, no one has ever asked me or sought to explore with me the sources of pain. I am asked simply to describe and within seconds I am given a name for the pain – or mostly not. Then I am prescribed medication (which mostly has never worked) and referred to the Pain Association to see if a course on self-management would help. But again, I keep asking how we can treat something if we do not know the root cause and in the absence of that, is it any wonder that treatments are unsuccessful?
I am reminded so often by professionals, “We only address the symptom!”
So is it any wonder so many continue to live with pain? Again, our medical system or paradigm seeks only to address symptoms, with costly medications.
I am not denying that medically it may be difficult to get to the root cause but please, let’s at least consider it before rushing to treatment.
Conventional, or Western medicine takes the position that we feel pain because physically and emotionally we can i.e. we fall on our face and our face hurts. Our partner leaves us and we hurt emotionally.
Western approaches to the treatment of pain, as the main symptom of any disease, are pretty much limited to drugs and surgery, cover it up or chop it out. Treatments consist of numbing or diverting pain receptors in the body or cutting out the painful part or organ.
While this approach does have its place in acute situations, it is at best a temporary and often harmful way to approach pain or other disharmonies we feel in our bodies. Most often, according to today’s radio programme and from my own considerable experience of the NHS, western medicine has little to offer most of us and makes us wait until our symptoms become unbearably acute before it can even acknowledge an imbalance, that something is wrong. My doctors even refuse to discuss fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrom; they have said it is a "last port of call" in their so-called exploration of what's causing the pain.
I have been reporting worsening pain for more than three years, and am no further forward …. at least as far as the NHS is concerned. So I have had to turn to my own approaches and I encourage you to do the same.
Conventional treatment approaches
Pain, unless you are suddenly wounded, is not something that “just happens.” The causal factor kicks in and over time it builds up to the point where pain shows itself, often at first as a gentle gnawing and then, if ignored, to a thunderous, throbbing mighty flashing beacon. Pain is a warning sign and yet so often our medical system rushes to ameliorate or remove the pain. And we in our haste think not to stop and enter the pain to discover its message but also rush to get rid of it.
In the early days of our pain development, we tend to ignore it, hoping it will go away, and so plain old inertia becomes the underlying cause of many of our day-to-day pain-related difficulties. You start to feel listless, oppressed, weighted down by lassitude; you won’t want to do anything at all. You may feel persecuted: "Why this, why now, why me? Why shouldn’t I sit around if I feel like it?” You may feel you are not in the best condition physically to do anything let alone explore your pain, with aches and pains that nobody understands. You may feel nothing can be done; you may even seek help from your health care practitioner who reinforces that to be true, there is nothing they can do, and so resort to offering morphine or an anti-depressants to deaden the pain. But that isn't treating the cause. They may try creams (eg capsaicin – made from red hot chilli peppers) or patches or a TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) machine.
If none of that works, you may begin to close in on yourself, walking more cautiously, using your limbs with extra care but all the time, holding yourself stiff in a new posture, sometimes without noticing you are doing this. What is happening is you are exercising less and less, thinking you are doing your body good, and developing poor movement and postural habits.
The less you use your muscles and joints, the more they waste; it’s called atrophy. To release yourself from this inertia, the first step is physical but check first with your doctor. Perhaps the worst thing you can do is rest. Rest is what you have been doing; what is required now is probably to get moving. Even limited walking, swimming, or other movements may be recommended. So check. And research. For the same pain I have had some say to rest and others say to move through the pain.
Superficial physical symptoms may come by way of protest: a dull,
throbbing headache, nerves on edge, a head as heavy as your heart,
limbs that won’t bend, muscles that won’t stretch. If given the green
light by your doctor, get up and go for a walk – and walk fast,
aerobically, even if you don’t feel up to it. Try to walk a little faster
than you feel you can. If you have a tendency to depression, look
upwards, not down. If your walking is insecure, consider getting
some Nordic poles for support. Who cares what people think!
After ten minutes or so you will find yourself breaking through that
physical lethargy. Keep walking, and you will see that the rhythm of
your breathing has improved, your spirits are lighter, you are ready to
face the next challenge of the day.
That’s the theory and it can work. I’ve had to prove it by doing it. I
don’t like the idea of it, but when I get going, my mood usually lifts.
I found myself recently at the stage where the pain (in legs, feet, arms, buttocks, pelvis) was so excruciating that any form of activity incurred more pain and I was aware I was becoming less and less mobile, able to do less around the home. So, I took myself off privately to a physiotherapist who confirmed that the body was giving up, somehow the brain was getting the message, “There’s nothing more I can do.” His view was we had to head back to basics and teach the muscles and limbs that they could operate fully without the pain.
I had to begin with the mental attitude. Change that negative mantra to, “Every day in every way I move more easily more and more.” I would repeat this constantly whilst walking, trying to get into the feeling of feeling good with the movement.
And within a week I was back walking (more than before) and swimming. It wasn’t quite as simple as that – I also availed myself of ABC Advanced Biostructural Correction, Massage, Homeopathy, and Traditional Chinese Medicine – mainly acupuncture. But why can’t the NHS offer any of these approaches at an early stage rather than allowing the pain to build to the point where treatment becomes costly?
Our signs and symptoms, apparent to us on the physical plane, on and in our body, can lead us to inquire more deeply into ourselves as energetic and spiritual beings, often after we have ignored the signs and symptoms and having wished they would go of their own accord. We begin to look beyond the physical, to the metaphysical.
The signs and symptoms are there for a purpose, they can teach, if only we would stop and listen. Metaphysics is about the cause of things.
We tend not to worry too much about pain, signs and symptoms when our body is working well, our life feels good, we are not feeling extreme pain, or we are not in the throes of some chronic disease. But when our body feels pain regularly, and it becomes insistent and persistent, or it becomes disabled by disease or accident then we could start reaching out for answers. Why this, why now, why me? We want to know why. And we seldom seem to accept the “why” lies in our own making. Or maybe we don’t even want to know why - we just want to fix something we perceive is broken, not working, and giving us hell. And we want to fix it now. So we want doctor to act as God and perform a miracle. And that is often the approach of modern medicine; let’s get rid of the sign, symptom, or pain. But that simply masks the condition which is most likely to be causing more deterioration and taking medications have their side effects.
If you are told the mantra, “there is nothing we can do but treat the pain,” do not give up, pursue the pathway of why the pain is there in the first place. When I go to the pain management clinic, all they offer is pain management (the clue is in the title of the clinic) – mostly through physiotherapy, oral and topical medication, electrical stimulation etc.
At no time have we ever had a discussion around the fact that my pain is migratory AND the arthritic pain and neuropathic pain are quite different in feel and nature and specifically located. There has been no discussion to address root cause eg inflammation, gut microbiome, a spine that is atrophying with old age, a bone condition perhaps.
And yet, by pursuing things privately, I have managed not only to reduce the pain but to partially regain my mobility.
The story of your pain
Pains that should never be ignored may be located as follows:-
bad pain in the head
hand and foot pain
lower back pain
a pain you just can’t put your finger on!
However uncomfortable a physical pain or debilitating emotional feeling is, it is not working against you, which is usually our first thought … why this, why now, why me? It is not your enemy. It is trying to tell you something, to help you figure out the cause and treat the cause, not just palliate the pain with some form of pain relief.
Depending on the type of pain and location it could be indicative of
deep vein thrombosis
Why do we treat as “nice” a pleasant, comfortable sensation, and seek to prolong it but seek as quickly as possible, to repress or eject a feeling we experience as uncomfortable, even painful?
Why is one judged as good, the other bad?
Why is one deemed a friend, the other an enemy?
What if the friend were fooling and lulling us into a false sense of security, keeping us stuck, and believing that all is well, when it isn’t, and the so-called foe were in fact an angel in disguise, pain as messenger from God, a warning to be heeded?
Why does our present medical paradigm seek to rush to palliate our pain and we learn nothing of its lesson?
I can understand the desire to rid us of excruciating physical pain, but when we mask chronic (i.e. long lasting) pain we lose the key message that it is chronic, ie long lasting, precisely because we are ignoring the lesson; it is the body’s way of reminding us of possible danger, that behind the scenes, deep within our body, something is out of balance, or going out of balance, a problem is being created.
And when it comes to emotional pain, we seek to analyse it away, tell ourselves all sorts of stories as to reasons why, we dull it with anti-depressants and other medications, even alcohol, to think it differently (through Cognitive Behaviour Therapy) to suppress it, repress it and otherwise dress it up again instead of heeding its message. It could be stemming from inflammation, from leaky gut syndrome in which case an anti-depressant will not work. And it could be due to the inappropriate ways we do or do not deal with life’s stressful events and lessons.
Now this isn’t a recommendation to ignore pain, to just live with it, to just go on suffering or tolerating it, leaving it unexamined and unattended, and especially allowing the cause of pain to go unheeded, continuing to create damage in its wake.
It is, as you may have concluded by now, an invitation to re-evaluate your relationship with pain in general and in particular to heed your specific pains and treat them as a wake-up call, to face pain, embrace it, learn from it and hopefully replace it.
Pain has a life. It is living. It is a form of energy. It is special. It is trying to help you.
Listen to your pain – how would you describe its nature? Throbbing, pins and needles, walking on glass, on eggshells, cutting, it’s intensity, its duration, its frequency, how often it repeats, its location, whether it shifts position. Don’t just ignore it.
Communicate with your pain – practise mindfulness, give it kind attention, letting it live and be within you just for a moment, give it momentary welcome in the safety of your body, your presence. Ask it for its message. Really, ask it … “Pain in my … what are you trying to teach me? What is your message for me?” The sit or stand for a few moments and notice the first thoughts that come into your head. Do not judge them. Simply accept them. They may make sense later. You may get further impressions later. You may get signs later eg see something on the TV, hear a character on radio, notice an advert on a bus and it links to your question.
If you sense it is a pain which merits medical attention, find words to describe it – this will greatly assist any health professional. But resist any temptation to cover up the pain without getting to its root cause.
How might you describe your pain to your health care provider?
achy - as in a dull ache, not strongly painful, not sore to touch
acute pain – strong and sharp. A serious illness or pain that lasts only for a short time is described as acute
agonising - very persistent pain
angry – pain, usually describes a wound which is red and painful
burning – a sense of hotness, as if it is burning
chronic – is more a medical term for pain that is serious and of on-going duration
crippling pain – in that it is debilitating and creating other health problems.
dull – may also be dull and gently throbbing or gnawing
excruciating – this is extreme physical pain
gnawing - both painful and worrying you
griping - pain that is sharp and sudden, mostly likely in the stomach
inflamed – may look or feel inflamed, hot, burning
irritated - painful, red, or swollen
itchy – may be more unpleasant than painful, but when scratched pain can result
raging - strong pain that feels angry and is very serious or strong
raw - associated with raw, open, painful areas of the skin
if your skin is raw, it is very sore
sharp – sudden and severe like someone inserting knife
sore - painful and uncomfortable, usually as a result of an injury, infection, or too much exercise
stabbing sensation - often sudden and very strong
stiff – describes pain that usually is associated with stiffness in limbs and muscles
tender - painful to the touch
thumping – as in a thumping headache
tight – often associated with tightness in the chest, as if it is being squeezed or pressed on
torturous - causing extreme, almost unbearable physical pain
vice-like - holding or squeezing you very tightly in a painful way
walking on glass or egg-shells
How do you describe emotional pain?
Emotional pain is something most people, they say especially men, still find it difficult to describe, but just because it is difficult does not make it any less significant. Being in touch with what you are feeling and having words to describe painful emotions is a sign of good health and well-being, and can be a useful exercise to help you and any health care provider you consult with. It is accepted that some health care providers may, in this day and age, still not be comfortable discussing emotions.
Your emotional pain may be described as: -
Abandoned (eg you may feel and say, “I feel abandoned, as if I’ve been rejected ….”
Afraid (eg “I am so afraid if I tell him he will leave me …”
Angry (eg “Every time I deal with that organisation I feel intense anger…”
Bees in the brain
Brain swirling, thoughts never ending
Crushing weight in the chest
Desire to run away
Going weak – at the knees, in the stomach, just weak
Gutted – a deep, empty feeling in the stomach
Like being covered with a heavy, wet duvet
Overwhelming need to cry
Sick in the stomach
Stomach tied in tight, tight knots
Unable to move any feelings out or off
Wanting to take physical action eg lash out, kick, strike out
Everything on the Physical plane is a manifestation of something on the Metaphysical plane. If something exists and it can NOT be described in terms of one or more of the five senses, then it is part of the metaphysical plane ie beyond the physical.
The Cancer Hospice organisation, Marie Curie, states that it knows from speaking to people living with a terminal illness, and their families and friends, that emotional or spiritual pain is common regardless of religion, beliefs or culture.
Rare will it be that we just ask our body what the pain means and then get an instant response. It requires process and application, time and patience.
There were times during a recent fortnight in hospital, when I was in great pain, suffering at a physical level from septicaemia (unaware of it), and “on the way out!” and “we’re losing him” as I heard the admitting registrar cry out in what seemed a far-off voice. The pain of it all seemed totally intolerable, long non-stop moments which seemed even longer in the wee small hours when I felt the suffering was more than I could take.
The nurse would arrive with promises of pain killers and morphine, only to disappear for hours and come back and apologise for the delay.
No option but to suffer. Or so it seemed.
So instead of suffering, and focussing on my suffering, I chose to contemplate what “this” – the condition, the suffering, the pain, the nausea, the fever – what was it all about? And not just at a physical level – was there a greater purpose to the suffering, was there a gift in the pain? What was it trying to teach me?
Try as I may I could get no answers other than to endure; the only way out was through. Nothing made sense. But I knew enough to realise that answers do not always come instantly. They seldom do.
Questions to God, to Life, to the Universe, to Angels seemed to go unanswered – and yet was that true? After all, despite the severity of the pain, something was giving me the fortitude to endure.
Would surrender work? Surrender to the pain? I should try that.
And then I noticed, the more I surrendered to the pain, often the more it would ease. I would say, “I offer you (God, Universe, Spirit, World, Angel of Healing, You-Out-There) my pain. At the very least let this not be in vein. May this suffering be of service. Let some good come of this, not just for me, but for others.”
And the more I surrendered, the quicker I felt I was going to heal, the more insights I gained.
In the West we so want to have an instant fix, get rid of the pain, to throw it down as we would a piece of trash we wanted to get rid of.
But clearly that was not going to work. Would a more Eastern philosophical approach help? Like the Buddhist philosophy to pain and suffering, their approaching to letting go which was less a throwing down and more a gentle laying down.
It’s a sublime Buddhist approach to pain. When you’re in hell, the notion that your agony might have some divine utility helps you endure. It’s a light ray of reason, a thread of meaning that you can grab onto in deep pain and confusion.
And then in the midst of my meditations and contemplation, a medical team arrived, “We are taking you for surgery now!” Well, that was a very practical answer.
Later, in a ward recovering, and enjoying the care, I began to reflect on certain things specifically from a metaphysical perspective.
Issues doctors raised were to do with the gallbladder, the kidneys, and sepsis.
So here are the more specific metaphysical reflections
Physically Bile (or Gall) is a powerful ‘analytic acid’ secreted by the Liver and stored in the adjoining Gall Bladder for later secretion into the digestive organs.. where it breaks-down (or ‘analyzes’) our food.
Metaphysically the gallbladder is to do with our ability to judge wisely following critical analysis. I had been through a period in life where I had to face quite significant life issues, where my ability weigh up pros and cons and make a wise judgement were often to the fore.
Anytime we are under great stress to ‘analyse’ things in our lives, where the analysis has to be extremely accurate, we may experience a corresponding physical response in the form of digestive / acid imbalances leading to under or over-acid stomach, acid reflux indigestion, pain or inflammation of the gall bladder (or the development of ‘gall stones’ in the gall bladder.)
Physically I had been having bouts of acid reflux and pain in my lower right front. Most people would treat acid reflux either by ignoring it or taking a prescription medication. But that does not deal with the root cause and so the warning sign is ignored.
Had I chosen to stop the busyness in my life at the time, I would have chosen the more metaphysical approach (words are highlighted) which would have been to accurately reflect on and analyse all the stress and strains of life at the time; these were mostly to do with unresolved relationship issues with a close family member, a situation in which I had been unable to be honest directly with the person in question and to be properly critical of what had happened between us and her part in the situation. Instead I kept making allowances for her. I was being too fair to her and not fair to me.
The key words metaphysically to do with the gallbladder are:-
accurately assess a situation
analyse the stressors
deal with difficult relationship issues
be prepared to be factually and appropriately critical
be fair – which also means to be fair to yourself.
In short, metaphysically, the gallbladder issue is telling us that honest expression of one’s critical opinions and a full ‘venting’ of one’s feelings is recommended.
Physically - The kidneys are two crucial bean-shaped organs in the renal system. They help the body pass waste as urine and help filter blood before sending it back to the heart. Their other key functions include: -
maintaining overall fluid balance
regulating and filtering minerals from blood
filtering waste materials from food, medications, and toxic substances
creating hormones that help produce red blood cells, promote bone health, and regulate blood pressure
Metaphysically The Chinese character Zhi means beliefs, awareness, intensive will, sentiment, purpose, record, or remembrance. Zhi is the spiritual energy of the Kidneys, is the hereditary memory or imprint of your past life and the ancestral energy of human beings, which records who we are and where we come from. It is the reservoir of life energy. The spiritual name of the Kidneys, Yuying, literally meaning “rear a baby”, emphasizes that the kidney organ system is related to the origin of our life. So all this is about our ‘bloodline’ or more specifically healing the bloodline by letting go of emotional ties, connections and issues which still exist between you and your bloodline. Examples of issues may include:-
Stresses related to old family “traditions”
Stresses unresolved to do with parent / child abuse
Stress to do with religious convention
Other family legacies which have become intolerable
If any such examples have been present for some time, then this can lead to a sympathetic response from the organs which perform the function of purifying the blood for the body.. the Kidneys; leading to infections, kidney stones or even kidney failure.
Now at the time of my hospitalisation, I had been trying to deal with my difficult relationship issue which had to do with family ties, convention, beliefs and behaviours, that I did not agree with. I was realising that ‘family traditions’ are only valuable if they are HEALTHY for all members of the bloodline.
The key words or actions to do with kidneys include:-
Be prepared to let go of ancestral / family beliefs, ways, traditions that are no longer helpful
Learn to forgive and let go
Heal from any abuse
Face up to religious conventions and the ones which are still difficult for you
Consider family responsibilities, vows, and promises – are they any longer appropriate?
SEPSIS – metaphysically sepsis is something is about an obsession for you psychologically. There is a need to let go, to forgive, oneself as well as another.
And in my story above, there was most definitely a need to let go of the family relationship.
It takes work and perseverance but by considering your pain and listening to your body, you may get new insights and realise there are some life and lifestyle changes that you too need to make.
Additional pain relief options include:
• Physical therapy
Herbal and nutritional remedies include:-
• Increase intake of Omega-3 fatty acids