all about pain
Part 1 – Overview and Contents
We all experience some kind of pain or other health problem now and then. Some people seem blessed with good health, while others suffer with chronic pain or other health challenges. I’ll be going beyond “conventional wisdom,” to give you a tour of several “hidden” causes of pain, in addition to some that are commonly known.
If you are struggling with chronic or recurring pain, you may have wondered, “Why me?” It’s a question often asked out of discouragement and frustration, which is certainly understandable.
This article is intended to assist you in moving along the path from “Why me?” to “I see!” Unfortunately, you are not likely to be “cured” by the time you finish reading it. But I will offer new information, ideas and suggestions to help you open some new doorways to further exploration. You might even see how pain can be your teacher. Hopefully, all of this will bring you closer to “I see!”
To treat pain effectively, we must know something of the many factors which participate in causing it. In our day to day reality, pain and other health problems are caused by the interplay of four broad categories of influence. While they are deeply interrelated, I’m listing them separately for ease of discussion. They are:
• Structure & Function
• Mental, Emotional & Spiritual
• Chemical & Nutritional
A thorough evaluation and appropriate treatment of the underlying factors can make a huge difference for people with long-standing pain. Because of the huge range of factors that cause pain, it’s rare to find a health care provider who is trained in finding and treating all of these deeper problems. In fact, I’d say it’s darn near impossible for anyone to be skilled and knowledgeable with all four categories of influence.
If you have a relatively simple problem, say, in the structural category, you may only need one good practitioner. If things are more complex, or the cause of the problem is more hidden, you will probably need to work with more than one. A good starting place would be a chiropractor or physical therapist, especially if they are also trained in CranioSacral, Lymphatic and Visceral therapies.
Because of the broad territory to be covered, there are several parts to this article:
• Is Your Fascia Glued Down?
• Is your Lymph Flowing Freely?
• Is part of Your Energy Flow Blocked?
• Posture and Breathing
• The Placebo Effect – an Inconvenient Truth
• Fake Knee Surgery Just as Good as the Real Thing
• Toxic Thoughts
• Our Thoughts & Feelings Influence Our Bodies
• Designing Happiness
• Allowing Emotional Energy to Flow Through
• Old Baggage
• Survival Patterns
• Lifelong Emotional Habits May Determine How We Die
• How Your Diet & Lifestyle Can Cause Pain
• Inflammation and Insulin (the Junk Food Curse)
• Inflammation from Food Allergies
• Drugs (Pain Pills & Natural Alternatives)
• Deep, Restful Sleep is Required for Healing
• Headache Pain from Toxic Environments
• Our Human Environment
• Connecting with Nature
• Pain Sucks, How could it be my teacher?
Part 2 – The Structural Aspect: Little-Known Factors in Chronic Pain
IS YOUR FASCIA GLUED DOWN?
The Structural influence includes the function, tone and balance of our muscles, nerves, organs, bones, joints and the connective tissue that holds it all together. Ligaments, tendons, fascia and discs are all types of connective tissue. Without it, our body would collapse into a blob of tissue with bones sticking out. Gross, huh?
All our tissues are enveloped and held together by the transparent connective tissue called fascia. If you’ve ever prepared a chicken for cooking, you’ve probably seen this thin, transparent tissue enveloping each group of muscle.
If you haven’t seen fascia, you could envision it as a complex sheet of plastic food wrap that enfolds and connects every tissue in our bodies. Through the fascia, everything in our bodies is interconnected and interrelated.
Scar Tissue Super-Glue
Most injuries, especially those from auto accidents, result in scar tissue formation in affected areas. This is part of the normal healing process. But there’s often a side effect from scar tissue. Since its purpose is to glue torn things back together, it commonly binds tissues that weren’t meant to be attached to each other.
This can happen any time there’s inflammation, which affects all the tissues surrounding an injury. Infections in the chest, abdomen or pelvis, and conditions such as endometriosis commonly leave behind significant scar tissue. Physical injuries and surgery are also frequent causes. Whenever scar tissue glues things together that are supposed to be freely movable, there’s likely to be trouble!
Try this Self-Demonstration!
This will give you a “first-hand” experience of the problem:
- Look at the palm side of your hand (with fingers together) and notice where the tips of your fingers are in relationship to each other. The middle one’s the longest, right?
- Now, keeping your fingers straight, bend them as a unit where they join your hand to make a 90 degree angle with your palm. Compare your finger tips again – looks different, doesn’t it?
- Now bend them back and forth and notice how they slide alongside each other, especially the middle, ring and pinkie fingers. Your tissues must be able to glide freely like this in order to function normally.
- Here’s the clincher. Grasp your four fingers with your other hand, squeezing them together with a pound or two of pressure. Now, gently using your finger muscles, (not your grasping hand), try to bend them like you did before. Be gentle – if you use too much force, you’ll miss the subtlety. Do you feel the resistance?
- Alternate squeezing and releasing your fingers to appreciate the difference it makes. Without the ability to slide freely past each other, it’s much harder to bend or straighten your fingers!
This is what happens in your body when scar tissue binds up the fascia between two organs, around an injured joint, or within a muscle. In the case of your hand, there is not only a problem locally, but eventually there would be problems in your forearm, when those muscles eventually become strained from trying to move your stuck fingers.
The resulting strain in your forearm could then cause a shoulder problem, and so on, like a domino effect that began with a little scar tissue between adjacent tissues. At some point, pain and inflammation usually develop.
Like a piece of clothing that’s way too tight, scar tissue and restricted fascia impair the normal movement of muscles, nerves, organs, bones and joints. These restrictions can interfere with circulating blood, lymph and energy flow, and cause local irritation or pain (Trigger Points). The restrictions also create a pull on the fascia, causing more stress and inflammation in local tissues and often transmit the tension to other areas, causing mischief there as well. In other words, scar tissue can put you in a world of hurt!
“Nature abhors a vacuum, but fears immobility even more. Motion is a sign of life itself . . . Everything in the universe is in motion, whether of large or small amplitude, of high or low velocity.”
Visceral Manipulation, Jean-Pierre Barral, D.O.
Imagine the fascia connecting your shoulder to your lower back. Now imagine something in your lower back gently pulling on the fascia that wraps around your shoulder, and that this continues for a long time. As your neck and shoulder area try to adapt to this constant pull, they become strained and begin to hurt. All the while, there may be no pain in your lower back at all!
This phenomenon illustrates the benefit of an evaluation by a skilled CranioSacral or Visceral therapist. When their sensitive hands are placed on a painful area, they can often feel the fascial pull from a distant location where the dysfunction probably began. See CranioSacral Therapy and Visceral Mobilization for more information on this approach.
While this can take some time to develop, pain and dysfunction eventually result. CranioSacral Therapy and Visceral Mobilization are indispensable in finding and treating restrictions like this.
A Case Study
I worked with a woman who was injured in an auto accident. She experienced an intense flare up of the fibromyalgia she had suffered from after another accident about 5 years earlier, even though the recent accident was much less severe. She came in with pain, numbness and weakness in multiple areas of her body. In addition to the usual spinal and muscular restrictions,
I found significant restrictions in the fascia around her lungs, heart, liver, stomach, intestines and the nerves into her left arm. Gentle work with these restrictions over the next few months greatly relieved the oppressive pain she experienced in her neck, shoulder, arm, mid and lower back, and pelvis. Her muscle strength also returned to normal. In many ways, she was better than she was before the second accident.
While I used several other modes of treatment, the visceral work clearly made the biggest difference. I know this because I often perform before and after tests to gauge the benefit of a particular therapy.
The shock wave from an impact or whiplash injury travels through your body via the bones, muscles, fascia and especially the solid or fluid filled organs. Yes, the internal organs! I had been a chiropractor for nearly 18 years before I learned about the role of the visceral organs in whiplash injuries.
I hadn’t heard of this concept anywhere in my training, not even in seminars on auto injuries and whiplash, until I took some courses developed by French osteopath, Jean Pierre Barral. See Visceral Mobilization for more information.
Another thing that can have a profound affect on the free movement of joints is lymph flow. I often see considerable, and at times miraculous improvement in joint movement after 20 minutes of Lymph Drainage Therapy. Please see the next section below for more information.
Other Structural Approaches
This is just a snippet from the chat we could have about physical or structural factors that contribute to acute or chronic pain. I cut it short so I wouldn’t keep you here all day – addressing only the less known approaches. You can read about three more with these links:
- The Chiropractic Model (for the spine and other joints)
- Somatic Technique (for tight muscles)
- Active Release Technique (for scar tissue & adhesions)
IS YOUR LYMPH FLOWING FREELY?
Few people are familiar with the lymphatic system. Since we couldn’t live more that a day or two without it, I figure it deserves more notoriety. Aside from the fact that our life depends on it, the lymph system can also be a wonderful aid when it comes to pain!
The lymph vessels gather up all manner of crud from the tissues, including excess fluid, pesky proteins, toxic waste, bacteria, dead cells, etc. There is three times as much lymph fluid (about 10.5 liters) in your body as there is blood, and it’s working for you 24/7.
So, what is its role in pain? If the lymph flow in a particular tissue becomes sluggish, toxins begin to build up and irritate the tissue. This makes it grouchy – you know, like you’d get cranky if your toilet was plugged up and you were locked in the bathroom for a few days.
Unhappy tissues usually begin to hurt after a while. It’s their way of letting you know that something’s amiss, and needs tending to. This is a good thing to keep in mind when something hurts, and you’re tempted to ignore it. Your pollution alarm might be going off!
Practical Application with Pain
I started using Lymph Drainage Therapy in 2007, and it quickly became a mainstay modality in my work. I almost always find diminished lymph flow in areas of pain or restricted movement. And after some lymphatic work,the tissues almost always feel more relaxed, less tender, and less painful. If it’s a muscle, it will almost always test stronger.
I’ve seen Lymphatic work literally dissolve some nasty, long-standing spinal restrictions and calm irritated nerves & muscles, restoring a restricted area to free and full movement. While this doesn’t happen all the time, Lymph work is a great help, and an important part of the toolkit.
I’ve also found that Lymphatic Drainage is great for restoring lost motion to restricted visceral organs. Please see the article on Visceral Mobilization if you’d like to learn about the importance of freely moving organs.
Lymphatic Therapy works very well as a team player when it comes to pain. The combination of CranioSacral Therapy, Visceral Mobilization, and Lymphatic Drainage Therapy along with gentle Chiropractic mobilization make a powerful diagnostic and treatment quartet for structural pain.
This link will take you to an article where you can learn a lot more about the Lymph System and Lymphatic Drainage Therapy.
IS PART OF YOUR ENERGY FLOW BLOCKED?
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, pain is usually caused by blocked energy. There is a concept in CranioSacral Therapy that relates to this idea. It’s called the “energy cyst.” This is an area of “compacted” energy that gets lodged in the body. It blocks the flow of energy through the acupuncture meridians and acts as an irritant to the surrounding tissues, resulting in pain or dysfunction.
I’ve found energy cysts to cause muscle weakness and restricted joints in the spine, pelvis or extremities, and even digestive problems. They’re thought to form when the body can’t disperse the impact force of an injury and it gets stuck in the tissues.
I’ve also found that energy cysts seem to form when we “stuff” our emotions and they get stored in the body. I frequently find them in areas of a person’s pain, and releasing this source of irritation appears to be an important step in the healing process.
In addition to pain areas, I commonly find these blockages in the major energy centers of the body. Releasing an energy cyst can make a significant difference in the way you feel, or whether your body systems test strong or weak.
LET’S NOT FORGET THE OBVIOUS!
Before we leave the topic of structure, there’s an experiment I’d like you to try. It’s important that you don’t know what we’re up to until after the first part (so don’t peek!).
I’m assuming you’re seated for this part. Don’t change your position until we’re done with this section.
- Without changing anything, become aware of your posture. Without moving, just feel your body and its position. Is your body relaxed or does it have areas of tension? Where does it draw your attention?
- Now, still without changing anything, notice your breathing – just feel it. Are you breathing into your belly, chest, or both? Have you been taking moderately deep breaths, or shallow ones?
- Still without changing your posture, take as deep a breath as you can in that position, and notice what that feels like. Is it free, full and easy, or are you running into a “wall?” If so, where do you feel the resistance?
Good! Now comes the fun part (you’ll get to move for this one)!
- Imagine there is a string attached to the top of your head, gently lifting upwards. Allow your head to follow its gentle pull, and notice how your neck and back begin to straighten out as your torso lengthens upward.
- See if you can do this without efforting. If you find yourself forcing it, just relax a little to feel the balance between the pull of gravity and this gentle upward lifting.
- You may sense a place in your body that has this natural impulse to rise gently upward, and will aid the lifting movement. If so, remember that place when you find yourself slumping back down. Lifting a little from your sternum (breastbone) is usually helpful for this.
- Now, invite a fresh breath into your belly, and when your belly is full, allow it to spill over into your chest, which continues to expand until you’re full.
- Now let it go, letting your shoulders drop, while maintaining your gentle upward lift.
How does that feel? Cool, huh? Go ahead, enjoy a few more breaths. This is happy hour, and they’re on the house!
You can experiment with going back and forth between your “usual” posture and breathing pattern and this new one, comparing the differences. You might also notice a subtle shift in your mood as you change between the two.
Your posture and breathing have a powerful affect on how you feel in the moment, and your level of health & vitality over the long term.
“Breathing may be the master function of the body, affecting all others. Restrictions in breathing can be the result of past traumas, both physical and emotional. Most of us have never received instruction about breathing and how to take advantage of it as a harmonizer of the body.”
Andrew Weil, M.D., Spontaneous Healing
If you aren’t already doing so, please give this fundamental part of your life some well-deserved attention. Here’s a short tutorial on healthy breathing: Breathing 101. If you adopt this practice, you will almost certainly find yourself feeling more calm, relaxed and energized than before. Best of all, it’s free!
Part 3 – The Mind’s Influence on Pain
This is a broad and extremely important area. I’ve done some form of massage, bodywork or doctoring with people since 1974. Over the years I’ve repeatedly found that the Mental, Emotional & Spiritual areas have a profound influence on our health and well-being. Stress and tension are big players in the pain game.
The Placebo Effect – an Inconvenient Truth
The mental category includes our thoughts and beliefs, both conscious and unconscious, and our level of awareness. It is well known in medicine that about one third of the people will respond positively to a treatment if they believe in it, even if the treatment is a fake. This is an example the power of the mind!
It’s referred to, somewhat disdainfully, as the “placebo effect.” Bruce Lipton, a PhD research cell biologist, calls it the “belief effect,” because it perfectly demonstrates the power of our beliefs. Dr. Lipton spent many years teaching in medical schools, and has done pioneering research at Stanford University
“The placebo effect is quickly glossed over in medical schools so that students can get to the real tools of modern medicine like drugs and surgery.
“This is a giant mistake. The placebo effect should be a major topic of study in medical school. I believe that medical education should train doctors to recognize the power of our internal resources. Doctors should not dismiss the power of the mind as something inferior to the power of chemicals and the scalpel. They should let go of their conviction that the body and its parts are essentially stupid and that we need outside intervention to maintain our health . . .”
“. . . It inevitably disturbs the pharmaceutical manufacturers that in most of their clinical trials the placebos, the “fake” drugs, prove to be as effective as their engineered chemical cocktails. (Greenberg 2003)”
The Biology of Belief, by Bruce Lipton, PhD, pg 107-8
Fake Knee Surgery Just as Good as the Real Thing
If you have knee pain, and are considering knee surgery, the following excerpt is a must read!
“A Baylor School of Medicine study, published in 2002 in the New England Journal of Medicine evaluated surgery for patients with severe, debilitating knee pain. (Moseley, et al, 2002) The lead author, Dr. Bruce Moseley, ‘knew’ that knee surgery helped his patients: ‘All good surgeons know there is no placebo effect in surgery.’
“But Moseley was trying to figure out which part of the surgery was giving his patients relief. The patients in the study were divided into three groups. Moseley shaved the damaged cartilage in the knee of one group. For another group, he flushed out the knee joint, removing material thought to be causing the inflammatory effect. Both of these constitute standard medical treatment for arthritic knees. The third group got “fake” surgery. . . All three groups were prescribed the same postoperative care, which included an exercise program.
“The results were shocking. Yes, the groups who received surgery, as expected, improved. But the placebo group improved just as much as the other two groups! Despite the fact that there are 650,000 surgeries yearly for arthritic knees, at a cost of about $5,000 each, the results were clear to Moseley: “My skill as a surgeon had no benefit on these patients. The entire benefit of surgery for osteoarthritis of the knee was the placebo effect.”
The Biology of Belief, by Bruce Lipton, PhD, pg 107-8
Curious to see what the details of the study were, I reviewed the original article and discovered some interesting things. You can read it yourself here: A Controlled Trial of Arthroscopic Surgery for Osteoarthritis of the Knee
- All surgeries were performed by the same well-trained, well-respected surgeon, so there was consistency
- There were 180 original participants in the study, divided between the three groups. 165 participants actually completed the full study (2 yr)
- Outcome was assessed at frequent intervals over a two-year period
- Improvement was about 25% reduction in pain, with the placebo group being about 2% better than the real surgeries over the course of the first year after the surgery.
The article’s closing statement said it all:
If the efficacy of arthroscopic lavage or débridement in patients with osteoarthritis of the knee is no greater than that of placebo surgery, the billions of dollars spent on such procedures annually might be put to better use.”
If you ask me, 25% improvement in pain is hardly worth writing home about. In fact, I’m astounded that this rate is even considered acceptable! Personally, I’m not happy with less than 90 to100% pain reduction for most of my clients, and I believe this is true for most other chiropractors and natural health care practitioners as well. Are we from another planet? Probably . . .
This 2002 study implies that $3.25 Billion could be saved each year by using the power of the mind to treat arthritic knees! But orthopedic surgeons took issue with the first study, claiming it had “flaws.” (This is what opponents usually claim when they don’t like the results of a study).
A more recent study, with more participants, compared arthroscopic knee surgery to a combination of physical therapy and common pain meds. The results were the same: no additional benefit to the surgery over the conservative (and far less expensive) treatment.
The news article states that orthopedic surgeons are now cranking out over a million of these surgeries every year. You can read about it here: A new study casts doubt on the value of a common procedure for arthritic knees
One could wonder why the practice continues, and even grows!
We could blame it on ignorance on the part of the medical industry, or even greed & corruption. However, I want to propose another, perhaps more practical reason.
Regardless of other influences, the proliferation of ineffective, and even dangerous treatments occurs simply because the public continues to demand it, and insurance companies continue to pay for it.
We, the public, need to wake up to our power of choice, and the power of our own minds. When this occurs, en masse, we will experience a health care revolution that will dwarf the size of the natural health movement that exploded in the 1980’s!
Are Pain Pills Safe?
The US News article I listed above recommends the judicious use of over-the-counter meds for pain & inflammation. I briefly address the dangers of pain pills and the potential benefit of more natural substances in the Chemical – Nutritional section of this article.
Sometimes our mind can be our own worst enemy. We’ve all had our bouts with negativity, when we doubt, judge, complain, rant, rave, or generally feel sorry for ourselves. It’s a human thing, and not worth getting upset about if it occurs a few times a year.
However, we can sometimes get stuck in a negative rut and have a hard time getting out. The less fortunate among us may live most of their lives in such a space. Sometimes this is due to dietary influences, like under-nutrition or food allergies, but quite commonly it’s due to old mental habit patterns or beliefs we took on from our parents when we were young.
Most of us also have a “sub-personality” called the Inner Critic. It’s judgmental toward us, and never misses an opportunity to point out our failings.
It doesn’t matter how good you look or how smart you are, the judge can always find something to complain about, even if you regularly appear on magazine covers and in Who’s Who.
And, if you’re like many people, your “judge” probably keeps a barrage of commentary going in the background. Many of us are still judging ourselves for mistakes we made 10 years ago.
The real question isn’t so much about what we’ve done in the past, but rather what you have learned from the experience. Isn’t the real issue whether or not we have taken responsibility for our actions and made amends to those affected? Tremendous healing can occur when this is done.
But if we continue to judge ourselves for something we did or did not do in the past, we will continue to suffer.
Some people recognize their judge’s voice as saying many of the same things one of their parents often said. It’s like having your very own Trojan horse. Talk about stress!
Negative thinking does more than affect our mood and cause stress. It’s been shown to affect our health at the cellular level.
Our Thoughts and Feelings Influence our Bodies
It is now well-known that our thoughts and emotions affect the health of our immune system, and many other bodily functions. Now, the new science of Epigenetics is studying how our genes get turned on or off by signals from outside the cell.
Positive thoughts and beliefs have a positive influence on our genetic expression, while negative ones have the opposite effect. This in turn has a wide range of effects, from how our brains learn and grow, to how susceptible we are to stress or disease. Genes that encourage or inhibit certain diseases can be turned on or off by these signals.
The old saying, “You are what you eat,” might now be translated to, “You are what you believe and think.” Our subconscious beliefs tend to drive our thoughts and emotions. But since these beliefs are beneath our conscious awareness, we don’t know who’s really driving the bus.
About 20 years ago, psychologist Robert Williams developed several processes for identifying and changing limiting subconscious beliefs. This makes it much easier to shift those beliefs and habits that keep getting in our way (and creating stress). Click this link to read a brief article about PSYCH-K.
As we develop awareness of what we’re thinking and feeling, we begin to have some “say” in the matter. If we’re aware of a negative thought when it arises, we can choose not to follow it. If we’re unaware of the negative thought, our auto-pilot follows it down the well-worn track, which leads to another negative thought, and another.
We can make a choice to stop feeding a negative thought process at any time. A similar thought might show up a minute later, giving us another opportunity to choose. Thoughts are amazingly persistent, so there’s an abundance of practice opportunities!
If you sense that there are feelings underneath a repetitive thought, you can experiment with “Allowing Feelings to Flow Through,” in part 4.
Using these simple processes has made a huge difference in my own “happiness quotient.” It’s very empowering to discover that you don’t have to run from your thoughts and feelings anymore – or allow them to “run” you.
“. . . we are rewriting the expression of our genes in every second, by our choices of what to do, say, and think. The choices we make with our consciousness are being genetically encoded in our brain structure daily . . .
“We must consider the implications of the fact that our emotional and mental environment, which we create as individuals, is one of the primary influences turning genes on and off in our cells.”
The Genie in your Genes, Pg 101, Dawson Church
As I mentioned earlier, Stress and tension are big players in the pain game. Now that you have (I hope) a better appreciation of the mind’s potential role in pain, it’s time to visit the topic of stress.
Stress is to be found almost everywhere you turn in today’s world. Since it’s highly likely that this will not improve greatly over the next year or two, it’s probably wise to develop some sort of relaxation or stress-reduction practice that works for you, if you haven’t already done so.
Please see my article series: How Stress Happens for more information.
Questions to Explore
Now that I’ve tickled your brain with this new information, I invite you to spend a little time pondering the following questions, relating to the power of your own mind:
- What type of thoughts do you notice on a frequent basis?
- Are your beliefs generally positive in nature, or are you a devout devotee of “Murphy’s law?” (something’s going to go wrong . . . )
- Do your thoughts often gravitate to worry, or do they center on appreciation for what you have?
- Do you often have anxious thoughts about what might happen in the future?
- Is your awareness mostly in the present moment, or do you commonly find yourself wandering in the past or future (even by a few minutes)?
- What do you tell yourself about who you are, what you’re capable of, and your worth as a person?
- If you were able to go through your life with more faith, self-confidence, and peace of mind, how do you think your pain would respond?
Part 4 – Emotional Influences on Pain
Persistent emotional pain is apt to cause, or contribute to, persistent physical pain. Both are simply different forms of suffering. Our suffering can be seen to have a purpose, and often shows us where we need to learn something. Our part is to look where the arrow is pointing.
Emotions, like our thoughts, have a huge impact oh our physical health. The emotional category includes our ability to feel and express our emotions; to live from our heart, if you will. Blocked emotions lead to a buildup of internal stress, which will affect our health sooner or later.
Emotions have been referred to as “energy in motion.” Allowing ourselves to feel our feelings as they arise keeps our energy moving, and helps to avoid stagnation. A fundamental premise in Chinese Medicine is that energy stagnation causes pain
When we allow ourselves to fully experience an emotion as “energy,” and let it move through our body, it usually dissipates quickly on its own. Sometimes another feeling arises as the first one fades away, and you allow it to move on through the same way. There might be several layers.
The key is to simply view the emotion as an energy, without any “story” attached to it. An example of a story would be, “Oh, I miss my husband SO MUCH! What am I going to do without him? What’s going to become of me?”
This is likely to make the grief stick like glue. It’s important to feel it, and important to let it go when it’s done. If it comes back two minutes later, you feel it again, and let it go. This is how you can move through deep grief – one wave at a time.
It’s helpful to maintain a curiosity about exploring each new layer as it arises. For powerful emotions, it can be very helpful to work with an experienced counselor as your guide.
If we don’t allow ourselves to experience our emotions as they come up, they go into storage, to be dealt with later. There’s nothing wrong with this, as it’s all a learning process. You can revisit old feelings and do your housecleaning when you feel more ready – but it is important to do it at some point.
If we haven’t allowed ourselves to experience or express our feelings over the course of our life, they are still tucked away somewhere in our body or subconscious mind, where they can weaken our vitality, cause stress & tension, and even unwanted behavior. This is often referred to as ”unfinished business,” or “old baggage.”
This old emotional baggage is heavy stuff. It weighs us down and prevents us from rising to new heights. You may have heard the term “heavy” applied to emotions, and aptly so. You can probably recall times when circumstances prompted you to reopen your dusty old suitcase, giving you a taste of what was in there. It probably wasn’t exactly uplifting.
It’s not uncommon to find old emotions we’ve denied being physically “stored” in our areas of chronic pain. The unwanted energy literally gets stored in the tissues.
Sometimes all that’s needed is a suggestion to “allow yourself to feel what’s underneath the pain,” to bring these feelings to awareness. Doing some regular emotional house cleaning benefits both mind and body. A sensitive counselor can be very helpful in exploring this territory.
The so-called negative emotions of fear, anger and grief are completely appropriate in certain circumstances. But if we habitually use one of these feelings as a defense, we tend to get “stuck” in it.
We each have our own unique survival patterns. These are mostly defenses we adopted to protect ourselves when we were growing up. Often we learn to shut down our emotions as children because some circumstances are too painful to deal with.
Survival patterns take different forms. One person might get angry and inflict it on someone they care about, while another might be afraid to stand up to someone who’s intimidating them.
Our survival patterns are like computer programs running in the background – and activated automatically in certain situations. Having our “buttons pushed” can cause a lot of stress and tension, and trigger responses that we later regret – causing even more stress.
The main keys to dealing with these old emotions and behavior patterns are awareness and acceptance. Allowing the feelings to come forth helps a lot, too.
Lifelong Emotional Habits May Determine How We Die
“Neurosurgeon Norman Shealy, M.D., Ph.D., in his book Life Beyond 100, summarizes four personality types – based on many studies – and links them to longevity:
2. Blame or Anger
3. Bounce between Hopelessness and Anger
4. Believe that happiness is an inside job
These people tend to die from:
1. Die 35 years younger than group 4: 75% cancer and 15% heart disease.
2. 75% heart disease and 15% cancer.
3. 9% either heart disease or cancer.
4. Most die of old age: 1% either heart disease or cancer.
Dawson Church, The Genie in your Genes, Pg 69-70
Questions to Explore
- Are you generally aware of your feelings?
- Do you express your emotions appropriately for the situation at hand?
- When you are confronted or stressed, which emotions usually come up for you, and how do you respond to the situation?
- If you re-visit your past, do you notice any regrets, resentments or feelings of loss that still feel unresolved?
- If you were in a soap opera, which role could you play the best without acting?
Part 5A – Forgiveness
The Bottom Line
Here’s the real bottom line on forgiveness. Whatever blame, judgment or resentment we’re holding onto is affecting us on the inside, and eats away at our health. It keeps us stuck in the past, and an unhappy one at that.
Forgiveness doesn’t mean you condone what was done. It is something you do for yourself, to let go of the weight you’ve been carrying, and any desire for retribution. It’s about setting yourself free.
Our human egos are adept at the blame game – the most popular game in town. Growing up in most cultures, children learn this game early on. Unfortunately, we usually become more sophisticated at playing the game as we get older. Politics, our legal system and newspaper headlines are proof enough of that.
When blame is cast, there is no room for resolution or healing of the situation. Conditions remain stuck between two or more opposing viewpoints, and antagonism persists. This impasse exists in many parts of the world where violence between different groups has a long history. The fact that many of these conflicts have been going on for thousands of years should be all the proof we need that “an eye for an eye” is not the answer.
What goes on culturally is a reflection of the “mass consciousness.” Each of us contributes our own level of light or darkness to the whole. We are truly “all in this together.”
As individuals, we have similar challenges to these cultures locked in conflict. Most of us have some degree of inner conflict, whether we’re aware of it or not. The Inner Critic is an example, and there are other “sub-personalities” which serve to make things interesting.
Just as war creates stress in our outer lives, conflict between different “parts” or ourselves creates stress on the inside. When a few million of us are able to establish peace in our inner world, we are much more likely to achieve peace in our outer world.
Healing old wounds requires these crucial conditions:
- Sincere commitment to the healing process on all sides.
- Willingness to let go of blaming.
- Each “side” must be willing and able to “hear” the feelings and needs of the other side. It may be helpful if people can share what they’ve experienced, and perhaps why they did what they did and what they were trying to accomplish.
- Each side must be willing to take responsibility for their own part in the damage done.
- Each side then makes their requests of the other, based on their needs in the situation.
- A win-win solution is hopefully negotiated.
Non-Violent Communication, by Marshall Rosenberg, is an excellent book on this process.
If the other party, is unwilling or unable to participate, you are left to process the experience without them. The Journey, by Brandon Bays, has an excellent script for working through a forgiveness process on your own, or with the help of a friend.
Forgiveness cannot be done from the mind alone, as true forgiveness comes from our heart. We may need to forgive ourselves first, for our perceived inadequacies, mistakes and misdeeds, before we can extend it to others.Dr. Dane
There are many good books on forgiveness. You can probably find some at your local library or used bookstore. Here are a few suggestions:
- Forgiveness: How to Make Peace With Your Past and Get on With Your Life by Sidney B. Simon and Suzanne Simon, (1991)
- The Art of Forgiveness, Loving kindness, and Peace by Jack Kornfield, (2008)
- Radical Forgiveness, Making Room for the Miracle, 2nd Edition by Colin C. Tipping, (2002)
Part 5B – Spiritual Support for Pain
The spiritual category includes our personal relationship with our Soul Essence, Spirit (God), or whatever is sacred to you.
Having some sort of spiritual practice has been shown to reduce stress and help sustain the person through the inevitable challenges life brings. It’s best to devote some time to this on a daily basis.
Allowing time for stillness in the midst of busy lives is essential to our balance, creativity and well-being on many levels. Stress manifests in the absence of stillness, and is a major factor in the development of most illnesses, including fibromyalgia and other chronic pain conditions.
Healing can sometimes be miraculous when we have a high level of awareness of our mental, emotional & spiritual aspects, and develop the ability to live in the present moment with a balance between our hearts and minds.
If you think you can’t take the time to do this self-nurturing, please see my article, The Art of Being Your Own Best Friend, which can get you started and includes many helpful tips.
Questions to Explore
- Do you spend time actively cultivating this relationship, or do you mostly ignore it?
- Do you nurture your spirit by doing things you love?
- Can you see the benefit in the adversities in your life?
- Do you believe that you have support from the spiritual realm, or that you’re being left to struggle on alone?
- Do you take time just to be still and/or enjoy nature in a quiet way?
Part 6 – Pain, Nutrition & Biochemistry
How Your Diet & Lifestyle Can Cause Pain
This is a big topic, which I will only touch on here. Our diet and nutritional status refers to:
- the quality of our diet & any unique nutritional needs we may have
- our ability to digest & absorb essential nutrients and eliminate toxins
- the ability of our body to repair, regenerate & create new tissue
- the health of our immune system and any adverse reactions such as food allergies, or autoimmune (immune cells attack our own tissues)
- our hormonal balance (strongly impacted by quality of rest and diet)
Poor nutritional status and excess toxins in our bodies can cause chronic pain. This occurs directly via inflammation, or indirectly through nutritional deficiencies.
If we are deficient in Magnesium, for example, our muscles go into spasm more easily, we cannot produce adequate energy for our needs, and we have reduced stress tolerance. Dr. Mark Hyman refers to magnesium as “the stress antidote, and the most powerful relaxation mineral that exists.”
Think of magnesium as the relaxation mineral. Anything that is tight, irritable, crampy, stiff – whether it is a body part or even a mood – is a sign of magnesium deficiency.
Mark Hyman, M.D., The UltraMind Solution, pg 139
According to US Dept of Agriculture estimates, half our population is deficient in this key nutrient. A big reason for this is this society’s predilection for cheap “white” foods (made from white flour and sugar). Important minerals and vitamins are removed or inactivated during the processing of the original whole grain and sugar cane. They remove the good stuff and leave in the calories!
Another critical nutrient which is deficient in over half of the population is vitamin D. Deficiency of vitamin D has been linked to depression, dementia, many cancers, autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis and fibromyalgia, high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, chronic muscle pain, and bone loss.
The primary source of vitamin D is sunlight. The body uses sunlight striking the skin to manufacture this essential nutrient. Use of sun-block stops 97% of the skin’s production of vitamin D. Other sources include mackerel, herring, and cod liver oil.
Many researchers and nutritionally savvy doctors are now recommending up to 2,000 IU of vitamin D. Since it’s difficult for most people, especially those in northern latitudes, to get this much, supplementation is suggested. Ask your doctor to test your blood levels of vitamin D.
Inflammation acts as an irritant, and disrupts normal body processes. Systemic (throughout the body) inflammation is a major player in autoimmune diseases, allergy, and asthma.
The fire [inflammation] often comes from many unexpected places – foods we eat, toxins in the environment, hidden infections, unknown allergens, and stress.
Mark Hyman, M.D., The UltraMind Solution, pg 172
Increased inflammation makes just about everything in our bodies and minds more irritable. This results in painful muscles, joints, and connective tissue (fascia, ligaments, etc). Inflammation causes active or dormant muscular trigger points wake up, causing deep, achy pain and other mischief. Inflammation also kills brain cells.
Recent research is now showing that cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes are primarily inflammatory conditions. Alzheimer’s, and nearly all the mood disorders and age-related brain diseases are now known to related to inflammation of the brain.
Mark Hyman, M.D., The UltraMind Solution, pg 172
Inflammation and Insulin (the Junk Food Curse)
A high insulin level is a hidden cause of inflammation. About 25% of the population over-reacts to eating concentrated carbohydrates with a spike up in their insulin levels. Insulin is a pro-inflammatory hormone.
Just to be clear, concentrated carbohydrates refers to sugar and starchy foods – especially processed foods made with white flour. This includes fast food and almost everything that comes in a wrapper, package, can, box or bottle.
Just think of all the money you’ll save if you stop eating that stuff! Healthier food choices might also help reduce your pain level – not to mention lowering your risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, dementia, Alzheimer’s and the like.
Inflammation from Food Allergies
Food allergies are much more common than is generally realized. Sometimes referred to as food sensitivities, this condition can be the missing piece of the puzzle for anyone suffering from pain that refuses to go away.
Food allergies are often involved whenever there is inflammation in the body that doesn’t heal in a reasonable time period. I have experienced this personally and seen it happen in many clients in cases ranging from simple sprains to headaches, back pain, arthritis, anxiety, depression and irritable bowel syndrome.
I strongly advise anyone with chronic (long term) pain, or chronic digestive or bowel problems to consider evaluation for possible food allergies.
This also goes for anyone who is not recovering well from an injury (or any other condition involving inflammation). There are various ways to do this testing. Some are effective, and others are not. I’ve found Applied Kinesiology and a particular type of blood test to be the most practical and effective methods.
Use Caution When Taking Pharmaceuticals for Pain
Pharmaceuticals are a common cause of headache. Those drugs most likely to cause headaches are medications for high blood pressure, seizures, ulcers and some drugs for heart problems.
Birth control pills are also known to cause headaches. If you have headaches and are taking any of these medications, check with your doctor or pharmacist.
If you only take an occasional aspirin, Tylenol, Advil, Ibuprofen, etc, you should not have a problem. My own idea of “occasional” would be something like twice a month.
Acetaminophen (the active ingredient in Tylenol and other OTC pain pills) is known to cause toxicity if used excessively. I remember a study reporting that pain pills with acetaminophen were linked to kidney failure. It stated that taking only one capsule a day for three years would increase a person’s risk of kidney failure by 50%.
This was the most extreme article I’ve seen on risk of kidney failure from Tylenol-type drugs. It boggles my mind to think that these drugs are still on the market. If a vitamin or herb caused problems like this, it would be yanked before you could holler Food and Drug Administration!
Aspirin is known to cause intestinal bleeding in some people. Long-term usage of pharmaceutical pain pills can also lead to other serious health problems like liver damage. Be careful with these things!
Willow bark supplied the original “aspirin,” without causing side effects like intestinal bleeding. Many drugs are copied from plants, then drug companies change the compound so they can patent it, advertise like crazy, and convinced everyone to buy it. The problem is that the molecule is no longer natural, and reacts with the body in weird ways, causing “side effects.”
You can still find good old willow bark in herb stores. It should not be used in conjunction with blood thinning medication, or in cases of bleeding disorders like hemophilia. It is also slow-acting, as it must be converted by gut bacteria to its usable form. Sounds inconvenient – perhaps that’s why we have aspirin.
Many herbs are good analgesics and have anti-inflammatory properties as well. If you have an interest, I suggest you get a good herb book, like Herbal Medicine, from the Heart of the Earth, by Sharol Tilgner, N.D., or consult a good herbalist.
Deep, Restful Sleep is Required for Healing
Our pituitary gland secretes the majority of its Growth Hormone during our deep sleep cycles. Our bodies absolutely depend on this hormone to initiate the repair and regeneration process. Good sleep, and enough of it, (7-8 hours each night) helps us repair our muscles and stay younger.
On the other hand, insufficient restful sleep causes an elevation of the stress hormone, cortisol. Now, cortisol is fine if you happen to be running from a street gang, but it’s not something you want high levels of on a regular basis. Cortisol stresses your body out and kills brain cells – enough said.
Part 7 – Pain and the Environment
A stressful environment will be “another straw on the camel’s back” when it comes to pain. Whether it’s your work or home environment, or the friends you hang out with, if it’s stressful, it’s draining your energy and is bad for your health.
One way to evaluate environments is to notice how you feel before you walk in, and compare that to how you feel when you leave. When making the comparison, take note of your energy level, the quality of your thoughts, and any emotions you have. Are you feeling “up,” or “down?”
You will begin to notice that you feel good around certain people, and not so good around others. Perhaps most importantly, how do you feel when your “with” yourself?
Headache Pain from Toxic Environments
Our environment can be a major factor in headache pain. Headaches are commonly induced from breathing toxic fumes, which can easily overload our liver’s capacity to process the chemicals. These fumes also weaken your immune system and disrupt normal mental function.
Toxic fumes are found in almost every new home, automobile, or building. They come from the building materials, especially paints, stains, sealers, plastics, particle board, carpets and fabrics. Even the so-called “green buildings” can cause problems for sensitive people.
Common places to encounter “bad air” are manufacturing facilities, chemical or petroleum companies, shopping malls, department stores, print shops, tire or paint stores, and fabric stores. People who work in these places may be at risk for various types of illness as time goes on.
Formaldehyde is a popular toxin found in these places and materials. Reaction to chemicals like this is often due to an inadequate supply of a group of nutrients called antioxidants, which the liver uses to neutralize the toxins.
Milk Thistle seed extract is a liver-specific antioxidant, which is often effective in relieving this problem. Glutathione is an excellent antioxidant but is more expensive. Because both of these help your liver clear the toxins, they are a much better short-term approach for environmental headaches than pain-killers.
Aspirin, Ibuprofen, Tylenol, etc, only serve to block the pain or inflammation, and do nothing to protect your liver and brain from the chemical poisoning. In fact, they actually stress the liver and kidneys, because they themselves are toxins.
Frequent use of pain pills is like ripping the ringing fire alarm off the wall and assuming the fire is no longer a problem!Dr. Dane
The best approach to environmental headaches is to remove yourself from the toxic environment, and start a supplement program to replenish your body’s supply of antioxidants and other essential nutrients.
Headaches are only one symptom of brain toxicity, and serve to remind you that something is wrong that needs to be dealt with. It is always best to seek out the true cause when pain is the issue. Most headaches are related to restricted neck or cranial joints, muscular trigger points, poor lymphatic circulation, blocked energy flow, meridian imbalance, stress, and food allergies.
However, some headaches are due to potentially life-threatening conditions such as hypertension, aneurysm, stroke or tumor. Most primary care doctors (MD’s, DO’s, DC’s and ND’s) are trained to evaluate these possibilities and make a referral if appropriate.
Natural medicine is a wonderful thing, but there are times when the most appropriate place to be is in the emergency room!Dr. Dane
Our Human Environment
People can be “toxic,” too, just in a different way. Of course, it’s a good idea to look at ourselves first, since we’re “around” 24/7. Having an active Inner Critic can add significant stress to our life (see Part 3 – The Mind’s Influence on Pain).
Regarding other folks, you can probably name one or two whom you don’t like to be around. When you are trying to grow personally or spiritually, it’s helpful to spend time with people on a similar wavelength.
It’s best to spend as little time as possible with people who are constantly spouting or emanating negativity. Sometimes we don’t have much of a choice here. Then we get to practice observing our own reactions and judgments of others whom we don’t like.
There is always a “reason” why certain people come into our lives, and often a lesson to be learned. You may need to develop better personal boundaries (saying “No,” setting limits, etc). Or perhaps they are here to show you something about yourself. Like mirrors, people often treat us like we treat ourselves! When we’ve learned our lessons, those kinds of people seem to disappear from our life.
If all else fails, you may simply need to care enough about yourself to remove yourself from toxic situations.
Connecting with Nature
Living mostly in cities has a price. Not only is there more noise, crowding, pollution and stress in general, but we are less connected to the nurturing value of nature.
Some research studies have found that “green space” in cities has a measurable effect on a population’s well-being. Spending regular time in a city park, or getting out of town to connect with a natural environment can be very soothing to your heart, mind and body.
“Only in the last moment of history has the delusion arisen that people can flourish apart from the rest of the living world.”
E. O. Wilson
Part 8 – Closing Comments & Resources
Pain Sucks – How Could it Be My “Teacher?”
I agree that pain sucks, and I’m not going to try to convince you that it’s wonderful. Of course there some people who really like it, but that’s another story . . . Pain does perform some useful functions, however.
In addition to letting us know when our bodies need attention, pain serves as a catalyst to action and exploration. It can open doors we wouldn’t have seen, and bring us to people or inner places we wouldn’t have ventured to otherwise.
Pain can help us learn the futility of holding on, and discover how to let go. We can see how we try to control our lives, and find that we really have little control at all.
Over time, pain can teach us something. What we eventually realize is that we do have the gift of choice. We can choose how we respond to life’s sorrows, joys, surprises and pain. We can accept “what is” as students with open hearts, or we can spend our precious life energy resenting the unfairness of it all, and wondering, “Why me?”
It doesn’t matter if we’re dealing with a health issue or a recurring problem in our personal lives; the spiritual approach to bringing healing to the situation is basically the same. The healing process begins with acceptance and awareness.
Pain can be a “wake-up call,” prompting us to slow down and pay attention to the message our bodies are giving us. Sometimes the message is simply “Slow Down!” Physical pain may also be a reflection of the emotional pain we’ve bottled up inside that’s now wanting to be set free.
At the beginning of this article, I mentioned the four famous factors – you remember them don’t you? No? OK, here they are again:
- Structure & Function
- Mental, Emotional & Spiritual
- Chemical & Nutritional
Four different categories, but really eight different factors all together. Each has had zillions of books written about it, and its own authentic or self-proclaimed experts. If we line up eight experts, one for each category, would any single one of them have the “answer” for chronic pain?
Knowing what you know now, that would be rather silly, wouldn’t it? Doctors get lucky occasionally, even if they only have one approach. Generally, those who combine more than one or two approaches can offer better results.
Since no one can be an expert in everything, you may need to have two or more providers on your “team.” This is more likely to be true if you have a complicated case, with lots of factors involved.
Pain can be a sign that any of the things we’ve discussed in this article is out of balance, and needs attention. It is usually at least a few factors, like some stuck joints or fascia, decreased lymph flow in a muscle, and a restricted organ. It may also be more complicated than that.
Either way, there is almost always an answer, or at least a partial one, that offers some relief. So listen to your body as best you can, get some help when you need it, and take good care of yourself!
“I see!” will become more of a reality when you recognize how some of the choices you make every day have been contributing to your stress instead of nurturing your spirit. With this new awareness, you can begin to make new choices, and gradually aim your ship in the direction you really want to go.
CranioSacral Therapy & Related Disciplines
If you have chronic pain, I recommend getting an evaluation with someone experienced in at least two of these techniques: CranioSacral Therapy, Visceral Mobilization or Lymph Drainage Therapy. Please see the Resource List below for how to find a practitioner in your area.
A good chiropractor can be very helpful. My personal rule of thumb is this: In most cases, if I don’t see notable improvement (compared to my initial tests) in three or four visits, I suspect I’ve missed something.
Be wary of treatment plans that read, “Three times a week for a month, then twice a week . . . ” This is most likely a cookbook approach, doing the same thing each visit, and you will probably be disappointed in the outcome.
How to find experienced practitioners of CranioSacral Therapy, Visceral Mobilization and Lymph Drainage Therapy:
Visit the International Association of HealthCare Practitioners website. Choose your modality and enter your full zip, or the first three digits. I’d suggest you look for people with three or four courses in that curriculum, but two will do nicely if more advanced practitioners aren’t available.
Links to Other Articles on this Site
Click here for my article on The Art of Being Your Own Best Friend
Click here for an overview of The Chiropractic Model
Click here for an overview of CranioSacral Therapy
Click here for an overview of Visceral Mobilization
Click here for an overview of Lymph Drainage Therapy
Click here for an article about How Stress Happens