You can tough it out, but the body keeps the score through the effects of cortisol. Kate Bartolotta offers several drug free alternatives for chronic pain management.
Most of us don’t enjoy physical pain. We avoid it. When it hits we try to do whatever we can to make it go away.
Pain itself isn’t a bad thing. It’s a message from our bodies that something is wrong. What becomes difficult and damaging to our health is when we either ignore those messages, or are struggling to deal with ongoing chronic pain. As a former chronic pain sufferer, and someone who works to alleviate chronic pain in my clients, I know that pain wears on all of us, emotionally as well as physically.
Physiologically, the message that pain sends is ideally a quick one that is addressed right away. You stub your toe, it hurts and you reach down and grab it. This act of compressing your toe—while instinctive—actually helps stop the pain message from continuing and begins the healing process. But what about when we are getting pain messages all the time, either due to ongoing injuries or any number of disorders that cause chronic pain?
Many of us try to ignore it; mind over matter. While mindfulness meditation and similar techniques have been shown to reduce chronic pain, simply ignoring it is not the way to go.
Chemically, one of the things that happens in the body when we experience pain is a release of cortisol by the adrenal glands.
You may have read articles referring to cortisol as a “stress hormone.” While that’s true, it’s true in two different ways. Cortisol is released when we are dealing with stress, but it is also a stress on our bodies when we have too much of it.
Cortisol is one of those “fight or flight” hormones that tell the body to prepare for attack. It’s a wonderful way we have of dealing with difficult situations—initially. Our blood pressure goes up, our digestion and metabolism slows down.
Cortisol also slows our release of growth hormones. While in children, human growth hormone is associated with things like height and physical growth milestones, in adults, it plays a larger role in how we are affected by the aging process. Human growth hormone does all the good stuff we like to see happen: it helps increase muscle mass, lower body fat, increase bone density, and increase exercise capacity. But if we are bombarded with cortisol, our pituitary glands slow down on releasing any of this human growth hormone that we want.
While this cortisol overload is associated with other stresses and not just pain, chronic pain sufferers should be aware of ways to manage pain rather than trying to grin and bear it, and add to their health risks.
A few ways to address chronic pain management:
Acupuncture/Acupressure: More and more often, medical doctors are including referrals to complementary practices such as acupuncture. While acupuncture and Chinese medicine are helpful for a wide range of health issues, in the United States, it is frequently referred to for drug free pain management, and is covered by some insurance plans.
Massage: While some people seek massage for general relaxation purposes, many massage therapists can offer more therapeutic work such as myofascial release and trigger point therapy that can help with chronic pain patterns or pain due to an injury.
Mindfulness meditation: Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn has been a pioneer in advocating for mindfulness meditation as a complementary therapy. While there are many different approaches here, something as simple as sitting quietly for a few minutes, paying attention to your breathing, can go a long way towards pain reduction and lowering of stress hormones and related effects.
However you choose to address chronic or injury related pain, check in with your primary health care provider who is familiar with your entire health history. Ongoing pain can be symptomatic of more serious underlying health issues. Be well!
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