What is the Pain Cycle?
As can be seen from the image above, chronic pain moves in a cycle which manifests itself both physically and emotionally and the two are strongly associated with one another. In the same way a severe stress reaction can cause someone to experience or develop a chronic pain condition, the improved psychological health of an individual can be the key to improving symptoms of chronic pain.
We do not wish to insult those chronic pain victims reading this article by suggesting that the pain is in their heads. We are programmed to look for a physical cause for pain and moreover physical solutions, be it manipulation, surgery or medication. Sometimes people can gain enormous benefit from mindfulness techniques which are very en-vogue. Also consider neuroplasticity and how the brain can be reprogrammed using a range of techniques.
The pain cycle is self-fulfilling, if no attempt is made to break it, an individual can find themselves entrenched in a pattern of behaviour causing that person to remain static or their condition may get worse or remain permanently. The downward spiral and cycle of pain is caused in part by deconditioning of the musculoskeletal system caused my avoidance behaviour driven by fear of pain. The breakdown of the physical form leads to emotional deterioration, loss of confidence, loss of self-worth and fear and anxiety which leads to further avoidance behaviour and so on.
Whilst researching this topic, we came across the “coping cycle”, a much more positive visual.
What is the Coping Cycle?
The pain cycle can be broken in a number of ways. Managing your pain begins with education. Victims of chronic pain must understand that chronic pain itself isn’t caused by activity. When touching a hot surface, you feel pain which is what your body is programmed to do, this pain is described as ‘acute’ pain.
Unlike acute pain, chronic pain is a ‘message’ that is not useful. Chronic pain doesn’t prevent further harm in the same way acute pain does, chronic pain is just there, a message that is continually being sent, sometimes without any objective cause.
Chronic pain victims can be referred onto a pain management programme where they are taught that it is safe to resume normal activity. As participation increases, muscle strength and endurance start to return and with a strengthened core and musculoskeletal system, patients feel more able to engage in physical activity with less avoidance behaviour and fear that activity will cause a flare-up of chronic pain.
Social withdrawal is a common consequence of chronic pain. It is so important as well as exercising the body, that victims of chronic pain expose themselves to social situations and surround themselves with positive influences and loved ones, as they would have before chronic pain became the centre of their worlds. It might not sound like much, but a simple coffee with a friend, might be the start of a break in the pain cycle, if such activity has been avoided due to fear and hyperarousal caused by chronic pain.
Exposure to activity breeds confidence and belief that it is possible to increase physical activity, step by step. Combined with activities such as learned breathing techniques, relaxation and perhaps meditation, coupled with more traditional pain control/ medication, victims of chronic pain can begin to relax, start to feel confident to move more normally and to resume more and more activities, leading to improved mental health, happiness, and fulfilment and hopefully in time, less pain.
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