Chronic Pain: You CAN Help Yourself!

by Robert H. Phillips, Ph.D.

There are things you can do to help yourself live a more comfortable life, despite chronic pain. Not only can this help you physically, but it can help you feel that you’re doing something, not just being dependent on the efforts of others.

Here are some important points to know about chronic pain.

  • Pain is the most frequent medical compliant, yet it is one of the most difficult to treat because of the different causes and individual responses to pain. Everyone has experienced pain in one way or another. But the worst kind of pain, “chronic pain,” can persist for years.
  • Pain conveys the message that “something is wrong” in the body, something requiring action to prevent further injury. Once the message is heard and proper steps are taken, the symptoms will usually disappear, for they are no longer needed.
  • The body is remarkably designed to foster its own survival and it has the inner ability to control pain. The mind is the most powerful pain reliever and the nervous system creates its own potent pain relieving substance called “endorphins” which is similar to morphine.
  • Many people learn to live very productive, satisfactory lives, despite chronic pain. But because the degree of pain perceived exists in one’s mind, and varies from person to person, taking more control of your own pain is a realistic, beneficial goal.

Techniques

Techniques that can be helpful include relaxation, cognitive restructuring, and visualization.

Relaxation

Techniques for relaxation serve a number of important purposes:

  • Relaxation reduces tension and calms you.
  • Relaxation eases any discomfort or pain you may experience.
  • Relaxation counteracts worry.
  • Relaxation reduces anxiety and fear- emotions that can exacerbate, your pain.

Cognitive Restructuring

A very important component in the way you feel is the degree of negativity in your thoughts. Restructuring (changing) your cognitions (thoughts) is a technique that enables you to identify your negative thoughts, and reword them so that they’re more realistically positive. This can significantly improve the way you feel, both emotionally and physically.

Examples of Restructured Thoughts

  • From Negative- “I’m never going to feel any better.”
  • To Positive/Realistic- “Isn’t it possible that I can feel better? And, if so, why should I convince myself that I can’t?”
  • From Negative- “I hate this pain. I can’t do anything.”
  • To Positive/Realistic- “Pain is cyclical. It doesn’t have to last forever. And there are always things I can do. Let me focus on them.”
  • From Negative- “Nothing can make this pain go away.”
  • To Positive/Realistic- “There’s no reason to believe that the pain will last forever. I’m learning techniques that can help me to feel better.”

Visualization

Visualization, also called imagery, is the conscious act of creating pictures in the mind in a way that enhances positive characteristics, builds strength, and promotes healing. Much research has empirically demonstrated the effectiveness of visualization in the course of medical illness and pain.

Although visualization is a unique experience, and you’ll apply the techniques as you choose, here are a number of helpful guidelines:

  • Select an image for visualization based on your creative picture of what is causing your pain, then select images to represent a slow, constructive reversal of the pain. You can tape a description of this imagery, or you can work with a professional to prepare such tapes.
  • Plan on listening to your tapes (or using your own mental images) at least three times each day (more frequently is even better).
  • Do your visualization in a dimly lit, comfortable environment, with distractions minimized.
  • Each time you do visualization, include images of your internal pain control system becoming more and more effective and important in the pain alleviation process.
  • Use visualization to enhance any medical treatment you may undergo; see this medical treatment as your friend, and focus on how it is helping to strengthen your body.

Additional Components of Your Program

In addition to the above techniques, important components of any program to help yourself are:

  • Stress management (reduce and minimize any sources of stress. In addition, going for psychological counseling and coping skills training can be a great help.)
  • Proper nutrition (eating more nutritious foods can provide the body with the necessary materials needed to activate its inner pain control system and to maximize its self healing potential.)
  • Appropriate exercise (activity strengthens your body and promotes health, healing and well-being. If there are times that physical limitations reduce your ability to exercise, visualize your exercise!)
  • Additional supportive mechanisms (family and friends, spirituality, etc.—whatever helps, comforts, and strengthens you—use it!)

(Please note: None of the suggestions given above are designed to replace the medical treatment you are receiving for your pain. As always, consult your physician if you have any questions about your treatment, or about how these suggestions fit with your treatment plan.)

Don’t want to do it yourself? We can help!


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