Pain is a Lion
Over the past few months we have helped you to understand pain, and by understanding pain, we have better control over it. We know that pain is a problem all around the world, and pain stops people from doing what they love to do.
In 2011, the Institute of Medicine reported that chronic pain cost the United States up to $635 billion dollars per year. With 50 million Americans suffering from chronic pain, that comes out to expenses of $644 per month, or $7,726 per year, for annual health care expenditures when compared to individuals without chronic pain. It's hard to imagine that cost has come down in the past 10 years.
Along with the financial costs of pain, there is an emotional cost.
Americans with chronic pain have twice the risk of suicide and four times the risk of anxiety and depression than those without pain.
If you're looking for more information about the financial and emotional costs of pain, this brief write-up will get you looking down the rabbit hole.
We know that we need better options for dealing with chronic pain.
We know there is a place for physical bodywork. We know there is a place for exercise. We know there is a place for stress management and a need for mental health assistance. We know that even medication has a place at the table when dealing with pain.
We also know that one of the most powerful and available tools for dealing with pain is education. By educating people about what their pain is, why it happens, and what they can do about it, we give the power back to the person experiencing pain.
Instead of waiting for someone or something to come and take away your pain, we want to help them get out of pain now. We know that when you finally understand what your nervous system is experiencing, you can take control of the situation and will start moving in the right direction.
We've talked about pain over the past several months and have given lots of information about how pain works. We know this can be confusing because the concept is new, and it goes against what you previously thought. Hopefully, we have been able to help you open your mind to a new way to think about pain, and that this new understanding is a new tool and you're starting to feel control over the pain you experience.
If you need to go back and review any of these, you can find them each here:
This will be the last installment of our pain series, and we are going to use another analogy to help you understand what is going on when you feel pain.
Here's the wild scenario:
If you were sitting at home, relaxing, enjoying a book, or mindfully breathing, then life is good. Your body and all its systems are calm.
What would happen to your calm, relaxed mind and body if a roaring African lion jumped into your room?
Would you take a nap? Would you adjust how you were sitting to be more comfortable? Would you be planning your next grocery list, or what you're making for dinner?
You wouldn't be doing any of those things, because there is a lion in the room!
Your normally balanced systems would not be relaxed and even. Your entire body shifts what it's doing to deal with the threat that is in front of you. You're ready to fight or flight (which you may recall from high school is the response of your sympathetic nervous system). You're wide awake and all the other tasks your body has to do are put on hold. This happens anytime we feel fear.
Now, what happens when someone comes and removes the lion?
The threat is gone, and your body systems balance out again. You may want to take that nap, adjust your seat, or think about the next meal. You'd probably also want to call a neighbor and tell them about the African lion that just jumped in your house. Make sure they are on the lookout!
In this scenario, the lion is a threat. The threat is what caused your body systems to shift. The threat is what stressed your body causing it to mess up the functions it's supposed to normally do. Even though the lion didn't harm you, it still changed how you function. It was the threat of being harmed that caused your stress systems to work overtime.
If you have pain, then the lion has been in your life ever since you've had pain. The longer the lion is around, the bigger it gets. You might get used to the lion being with you, but that doesn't make it any less threatening. Your body and mind stay ramped up to protect you. Wherever you go, the lion is with you.
Do you think living with a lion might affect your sleep? Or your mood?
Wouldn't that make you tired and fatigued? Do you think your memory would be as good as it was before the lion lived with you?
Do you think your body might start hurting more since it can't heal itself? Do you think you'd have the same interest in sex? Or work? Or friends?
Now, we can't just take the lion away from your life as we did in the scenario, but what if you understood the lion better? What if by understanding the lion better it became less threatening? What if it was a lion cub instead of a big roaring beast?
With a smaller threat, your body and mind don't need to be turned up all the way, all the time. A smaller threat is less stressful, and it will be easier for you to return to a balanced system.
By increasing your knowledge about pain you can improve your focus, concentration, and memory. Your tissues can heal and recover resulting in less soreness and sensitivity, and you can get better sleep. All that results in more energy to do the things you love to do.
Think about that lion that you've been living with. Is it big and scary? Does living with it exhaust you? Does it stop you from doing what you want to be doing?
Now, think about understanding that lion, and making it smaller and less scary. Would you be able to do more, explore more, and enjoy more if you weren't so scared of the lion? Could you learn to live with a lion cub easier than with a full-size adult lion?
We know that pain is difficult. We've worked for years to get a better understanding of it. What we find is that educating people about pain and why they feel it is the most empowering step we can take to get people feeling better and doing more.
Pain is not an easy thing to solve. It serves a purpose. It's helpful even though it's not pleasant. Understanding what pain is and why we have it is how we start to tame it.
We hope this series has helped you get a better understanding of pain. We strongly encourage you to read the prior posts about it, even if you've already read them. You will get more insight and understand something new each time you review it.
If you, or someone you care about, is having chronic pain, share our blog posts and have them reach out to us. We have the tools to help them and can offer a service and perspective many other providers aren't. We can help understand pain, be compassionate about working together, and empower each person to tame their own lion. #snowbeastperformance