We have all experienced pain from an injury and usually a few visits to a health practitioner will fix it. But what if it doesn’t, and your pain begins to affect your everyday life?
As a physiotherapist the number of chronic pain clients that I see has grown. Their pain does not heal as expected and conventional management doesn’t help their symptoms. It’s not surprising that this upward trend has occurred. As our lives have become more stressful, we are seeing more clients living with chronic pain.
Stress affects everyone and it may be one reason why your pain is not healing. A little stress is fine. Stress is actually the body’s way of helping us protect ourselves from danger or injury. It is when this response isn’t deactivated that the problems begin.
Living with chronic pain is stressful in itself, so I find that many of my clients are in a vicious cycle. Their pain is causes them to live in a constant state of stress, which in turn hinders their ability to heal. This leads to a heightened level of pain, which then causes them to feel even more stressed. Can you see how this works?
In order for healing to occur this cycle needs to be broken. One way to break this cycle is to find a practice that helps decrease the stress and it’s affects. Meditation is just one way that you can do this.
Here are five ways that meditation can help decrease your stress, and in turn assist with healing:
Meditation stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system. When activated it helps return you to a more calm and relaxed state. When you are in a state of chronic stress the sympathetic nervous system is always ‘on’. You have to turn this ‘off’ for the parasympathetic nervous system to kick in.
Meditation improves your quality of sleep. It is while we sleep that our bodies rejuvenate, repair and rebuild. People with chronic pain often find their sleep interrupted. Their pain either doesn’t allow them to fall asleep, or wakes them during the night. Meditating before bed helps activate your parasympathetic nervous system. This helps you relax as mentioned above, but is also the part of the nervous system involved in healing.
Meditation helps slow down the production of cortisol, which is your primary stress hormone. When your cortisol levels are chronically high your adrenal glands start to get depleted. This raises your prolactin levels, which in turn increases your body’s sensitivity to pain.
Meditation helps decrease muscle tension. When stressed the body produces hormones that cause the muscle fibres to remain tense. The muscles are then in a constant hyper-stimulated state. Meditation helps the muscle fibres relax. This leads to decreased pain, tension, tightness and stiffness.
Meditation helps take your focus away from your pain. Pain occurs when your pain receptors send messages to your brain to tell it there is something wrong. The more attention you give to your pain, the more these pain receptors will fire off messages. The more messages it receives the more the brain thinks that they are important. And so your pain will intensify. Mediation helps take your focus away from your pain. These messages will slow or stop and your pain will decrease.
The benefits of meditation can be difficult to understand. Many of my clients are a little bit skeptical at first and so I simply ask them to ‘sit in stillness’ for 10 minutes a day. If you haven’t meditated before then this is my advice on the best way to start:
- Start with just 5-10 minutes a day, but make it a daily commitment. Meditating for a short time each day will be more beneficial than 30 minutes once a week.
- Set a timer on your phone. That way your mind won’t be distracted from worrying about the time.
- Meditate in a quiet place and a time of day that you won’t be interrupted by partners, kids or the dog.
- Focus on you counting your breath to help your mind from wandering.
- If your mind does wander then don’t be hard on yourself. It is perfectly natural and you will only get better with practice.
Living with chronic pain isn’t fun. It can affect your quality of life and interfere with your relationships and work. Don’t let your health practitioner tell you that you just need to ‘learn to live with it’ either. You don’t have to. The key is learning how to take back control of your body, rather than your body controlling you. Meditation is just one way that you can start doing just that.
Nicola Judkins is a physiotherapist (BPhty), life coach, speaker & writer who helps women understand how the physical pain they are experiencing may be related to stress, overwhelm & low self-worth.