What is Pain?
Pain is a highly sophisticated protective mechanism that is designed to keep the body alive. Think of perceived danger such as heat from a hot stove or fire, your built in alarm system will alert you to the potential danger. It does this via a feedback system, where your sensory inputs sends a message to your brain, which will decide if you need protecting and trigger your pain receptors. This system helps to keep you alive.
This kind of feedback is for immediate pain or acute pain, to remove you from the perceived danger. But when you have chronic pain, this feedback system is so overworked that the alarm system becomes faulty and does not work in its intended form.
Pain is complex, in that it is not a single entity, and everybody experiences it differently. Pain sensitivity and tolerance is different for each person. Pain tolerance is also dependent on both external and internal stimulus.
Your perception for pain can be influenced by many factors including:
- Sleep – if you are sleep deprived then you are more sensitive to pain.
- Alertness – if you are preoccupied you are less likely to feel pain.
- Females are more likely to experience pain than males.
- Psychological state – if you are anxious, you are more likely to experience pain.
There are two categories for pain:
- Only lasts for a short time.
- Due to injury or tissue damage.
- Can be the bodies alarm system alerting you to danger.
- Usually lasts longer than 12 weeks.
- Can be stand alone and exist without reason.
- Characterised by changes to the central nervous system.
Pain is often accompanied by two defining clinical features: Inflammation and acidity.
Inflammation is another necessary defence mechanism. It is designed to help heal the body when there has been damage. Inflammation is activated by the immune system in response to an infection or trauma. It generates an influx of immune cells and fluid to the affected area to help fight off foreign invaders and bolster your protection. It also creates heat and redness to increase the temperature and kill off any bacteria, virus or pathogens.
This system should return to normal once the trauma or infection has passed. In the case of chronic pain, this mechanism is constantly in use as it fails to switch off. This causes chronic pain and inflammation that can be released at many different sites in the body.
Acidity and alkalinity are expressed by measuring your pH level. Usually, the body maintains a pH of around 7.40 with a range of 0 (acidic) to 14 (alkaline).
Your kidneys are the organs that deals with and excretes these acids. If the kidneys are not able to keep up with the amount of acid needing cleared, then the excess is stored in the body. This excess acid is temporarily stored in the connective tissue such as joints and muscles, causing pain.
An imbalanced diet is usually the cause of a more acid body. This is where a diet high in antioxidants in the form of fruit and vegetables is helpful. That is because they are alkalising and can assist with neutralizing the excess acid. (BioPractica, n.d.)
The burden of living with chronic pain can influence many different areas of your life beyond the initial trauma or condition itself. Chronic pain can impact sleep, can stop you from working, cause financial stress. It can also impact on your social life causing issues with relationships.(Orthoplex, n.d.)
Some painful facts:
- 3.37 million Australians were living with chronic pain in 2020. 53.8% are women (1.81 million) and 46.2% are men (1.56 million).
- 68.3% (2.30 million) are of working age.
- For the majority (56%) of Australians living with chronic pain, their pain restricts what activities they can undertake.
- The prevalence of chronic pain was estimated to increase from 3.37 million Australians in 2020 to 5.23 million people by 2050.
The type of care that people sought included 63% of people using opioid medication. According to Pain Australia there is also a reported increase in mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.
These are some tough facts to write about, and the overuse of opioid medications and anti-inflammatory medications only adds to the problem rather than being part of the solution. These types of medications should be a short term solution to manage acute pain but are often used long term to manage chronic pain. And I understand, ask anyone with ongoing pain and they tell me they cannot do without them.
But if you had no brain, would you have any pain?
The answer is its all in your head! Although its not, you do feel pain in your physical body, but the brain is the organ behind you feeling this pain. Your brain can dial up and down the level of pain you experience. Therefore mindset and mindfulness play such an important part in managing your pain.
Pain Management requires a multiple disciplinary approach. This includes areas such as
- Diet – eating a healthy balanced diet high in antioxidants.
- Removing addictive products such as smoking and alcohol
- Moving your body
- Mindset and meditation practices
- Practicing relaxation
- Socialising – participating in social activities and seeing friends.
- Healthy sleep
- Managing stress
- Keeping a pain journal and document your pain score.
- Understanding the side effects of your medications.
Movement is important for chronic pain as it helps the lymphatic system move toxins into the areas where they are excreted. It increases the production of endorphins, which help improve your mindset. Movement also helps you to manage your stress and improve your sleep.
Movement can include:
- Yoga and tai chi
- Strengthening exercises like Pilates
Reducing inflammation is a key goal when managing pain. Using an infra-red sauna is helpful for this practice as it helps to reduce inflammation. Infra-red sauna also increases the detoxification pathways which help to remove those toxins that can cause joint pain.
Looking at your diet is also a key component of pain management. Using either an Anti-inflammatory or an Alkalising Balancing type diet would be beneficially in helping to reduce inflammation levels and reduce the level of acidity.
If you are taking anti-inflammatory medications on a regular basis, you may also need some gut health support. These medications do cause issues with the lining of the gut when used chronically. So, while they are helping to reduce your symptom of pain, they are not helping to bring a solution to the cause.
The Melbourne Floathouse has several activities to help manage pain, and these include:
- Infra-Red Sauna for reducing inflammation.
- Floatation pods for managing stress.
- Lymphatic drainage for reducing fluid and improving detoxification pathways.
- Massage for muscular management and mindfulness.
- Cryotherapy for pain reduction in injuries.
- Oxygen therapy to help improve the oxygen ratio and reduce acidosis.
If you are wanting a more multi-disciplinary approach to pain management then try some of the activities at the Melbourne Floathouse. And if you feel you need help to manage the side effects of medication, dietary advice or you are looking for help to manage your condition, then book in for a discovery chat with me. It’s a free 15 minute appointment for you to discuss how I can help
Authored by Jan Caton BHSc-Nat. Owner and Naturopath at Magnolia Apothecary, Owner of The Conscious Spender. Jan has clinics at The Melbourne Float House, Kilsyth and a clinic in Mt Evelyn.
BioPractica. (2021). Acid-Base Balance For Energy, Vitality And Optimal Health. Retrieved May 7, 2021, from https://biopractica.com.au
Orthoplex. (2021). PRESS PAUSE ON PAIN. Retrieved April 7, 2021, from https://admin.bioconcepts.com.au