Understanding What Pain is Really About

When I give talks to groups, I lead off by asking, “How do you know you are healthy? What do you base being healthy upon as opposed to being not healthy?” The most common answer is, “I feel good.”  In other words, people define their health status on whether or not they are experiencing pain.  And this is where the entire problem lies.  Pain is being viewed as an illness rather than for what it truly is – a mind/body communication.

One of the most common reasons people seek out the care of a physician is pain.  In fact, of the top 10 reasons for going to the doctor, four of them are due to different categories of pain. 

The most commonly prescribed drug in the US today is hydrocodone, a pain medication with 131.2 million prescriptions filled each year. There are thousands of pain management centers around the country offering thousands of different procedures to alleviate pain. Unfortunately, in most cases, we can’t ‘manage’ pain.  If we take this approach, the pain may go away for awhile, but it always returns.  What we have to do is understand what it is our bodies are trying to tell us.

What I try to impress upon my clients is that when we start to feel pain for no apparent reason, it’s not that the body has suddenly decided to make one’s life miserable.  The sensation is caused by an alarm system the body uses to protect us and warn us of impending danger.  If we ignore the signals, the body will keep giving it to us until the message is received. 

But how do we know what the message is?  It can be many things:

  • Most importantly, and not to be discounted, it may be a serious illness. Case in point, in the early days of my practice, I had a client with mid-back pain.  He came to me for a bit and I did my best to help him through this discomfort.  After a couple of weeks, he stopped coming and I didn’t see him for about a year.  When he came back, he told me that the pain he had been experiencing was due to gall bladder cancer.  Of course, I have no way of diagnosing that, and it’s good that he checked it out. This is rare, but it does happen. 
  • It may be due to something we are eating that disagrees with the body.  I can’t tell you how many times I have worked with people with hip pain only to realize that there is something in the diet that is causing intestinal spasming.  Most often, this is caused by dairy products, but could be caused by any food item.  When the intestines are in pain, they often refer it to the outside of the body.  A change in diet makes it go away. 
  • It can be the challenges of daily life.  Stress causes us to tense, resulting in staying in a chronic fight or flight state.  Prepared to save our lives in a stressful situation, the muscles become contracted and never relax.  If we are stuck this way for lengths of time, eventually the muscles start to ache or spasm.  It is important to find ways to relieve this stress.  Yoga, tai chi, meditation, exercise, and most importantly – chiropractic care, can all assist with this.  Also take a look at your life, see what needs to be changed and try to change it.  Many years ago I had a female client who had signs of chronic fatigue syndrome.  Again, I did what I could do to help her.  One day she came in and announced that she was all better.  I asked what happened, and she said, “I left my husband!”  Your body will sense if you are in a non-healthy situation and let you know.
  • Along with diet, it may be something you are drinking.  Diet sodas are a major contributor to headaches, as is too much caffeine.  Headaches may also be a sign of dehydration, so be certain that you are getting enough water during the day.
  • Unresolved emotional issues can result in chronic pain.  I have worked with a number of women with chronic pelvic and low back pain who have had a history of sexual abuse.   Other unresolved issues can manifest in pain.  If we deny the feelings that are uncomfortable, they can be felt throughout the body.  I tell people that if you don’t cry through your eyes, you will cry somewhere else.  As these issues are resolved, the pain finally goes away.
  • Over-working your body.  Your body will tell you if you’ve done too much.  Listen to it, and take a rest. 

These are just a few examples of what can result in pain, but there are many more.  The important thing is to listen to what your body is telling you and follow its guidance.  If you treat the pain as an illness by “taking something to make it go away” or have someone provide some therapy to reach the same end, you will never get the relief you seek.  In the long-run you will eventually suffer the damage that your body has been warning you about.  

As I mentioned at the start of this article, people define their health by whether or not they are experiencing pain.  If being pain free is a sign of health, then I can take you to the cemetery and show you hundreds of healthy people.  Dead people do not feel pain.  The question to ask yourself is, “do you want to be more dead, or more alive?”  The more you artificially squelch pain, the more dead you become.  The more awareness you have of yourself and what your body’s needs are, the more alive you become.  Then you are able to make empowering decisions that support you.  This is the true essence of what it means to be healthy.


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