What is your pain trying to tell you?
Updated: Jan 28
Do you live with pain or chronic discomfort of some kind; a kind of dull awareness that something is not right in your body? It may be more of a bad feeling than pain itself, such as the discomfort that comes with digestive issues, or insomnia.
Ask yourself the following questions:
How often do I take pain medications in a week? In a month?
How often does pain or discomfort affect my mood?
How often does pain inhibit me from doing things I enjoy?
How often does pain prevent me from getting beneficial exercise?
Chronic pain comes in two forms: nociceptive pain, caused by damage to body tissues; and neuropathic pain, signalling nerve damage or a malfunctioning nervous system. Pain can be very non-specific, especially if it is related to chronic inflammation as may be experienced in a wide variety of chronic health conditions such as autoimmune conditions, neurological conditions, post viral syndromes etc. While medical pain management has helped us enormously in the ability to live and function well with chronic pain, we do ourselves a great disservice if we do nothing to address the underlying cause of the pain.
C.S Lewis, writer of The Problem of Pain, famously said: "Pain is God's megaphone to rouse a deaf world." Though he was talking about emotional pain and human suffering... on an individual and physical level it could also be said that pain is God's megaphone to rouse a deaf person!
Paul Brand, the doctor who identified the organism involved in Leprosy, wrote a book called 'The Gift of Pain'. Through his work with lepers he recognised that pain is an essential part of human physiology because it teaches us to avoid things that can damage us. For example, when we reach out to pick up a hot pot, the sensation of burning makes us put it down before damage becomes extensive. People with leprosy cannot feel this pain, therefore they are constantly injuring themselves.
There is so much to learn from this picture. How many of us ignore or artificially suppress pain on a daily basis, not realising the physical damage it is trying to alert us to? We use paracetamol, ibuprofen, steroids (or maybe something stronger) to suppress pain signalling, all the while ignorant of what has created the pain or discomfort in the first place; never dealing with the root problem and creating an ever downward spiral for our health.
Sadly for many of us pain comes on slowly and insidiously; like a frog in water we are not aware that the heat has been turned up. Slowly, slowly pain and discomfort may increase without us realising how bad it has become until it is like a constant noise in our heads, vying for attention. It is worth noting that long term pain that has been ignored will actually increase your sensitivity to pain. Our bodies become wired to register pain more easily when it is always present, leading to generalised pain hypersensitivity.
Ignoring pain for too long is a perilous exercise. If you are unaware of the cause of the pain, you can be sure damage is occurring in your body at a cellular level. Even if the cause is not significant to your long term health, pain will stress you and age you, negatively affecting your lifestyle. Worse: pain is often an early sign of pathology that can lead to a domino effect in terms of ill health. It may be warning you that you are on a destructive path health-wise and that you need to choose an alternate route. You owe it to yourself and your family to be the best YOU you can be and to look after your health, listen to your body, and age well.
So what can you do about it?
1. ACKNOWLEDGE - Listen to those signals in your head. Acknowledge that they are real and present and that they can be addressed.
2. INVESTIGATE - See your Doctor or health provider about testing to identify the sources of pain or discomfort and any underlying condition they may be signalling. Sometimes a functional medicine practitioner will go further in seeking the underlying cause using relevant functional testing such as comprehensive stool analysis, organic acids testing, DUTCH Hormone testing, comprehensive thyroid testing, to name a few.
3. RESPOND - to whatever has been identified. You may have a condition involving chronic inflammation that can be modified through dietary changes and nutritional supplements. Enlist the help of a health practitioner who is cause-oriented in their approach to managing your pain, rather than simply bandaiding it with medications to block the signalling.
Lastly, chronic pain can be very depressing. It may take a great deal of willpower to overcome the sense of helplessness and hopelessness it evokes. Don't give up! Life is a blessing in any form and worth fighting for. There are always small and large changes we can make to improve life and decrease pain levels. Moderate exercise for example has been shown to modify pain signalling and reduce the experience of pain in chronic conditions. Push through. You can do it. You CAN feel better!
Make an appointment with a Nutritional Medicine Practitioner today to find out how diet changes, lifestyle choices, and targetted nutraceuticals can change your experience of pain and improve your health.