Pain is a normal and good. What!? You cannot stand it. Pain keeps you awake at night, prevents you from doing your favorite activities, and worries you endlessly. How can pain be good?
Imagine you had an 18-month-old, very-active toddler who is extremely curious. A bobby pin goes in the electrical socket, fingers run over the edge of a steak knife on the table next to the soup spoon, hands touch the top of the stove and then a tumble down the stairs – all with no pain because of defective nerves. You would go crazy because the child feels nothing and does not learn from experience what activities are harmful. Acute pain protects you from harm and causes us to seek treatment.
Chronic pain continues. Nerves can send pain signals often for years after the initial mishap. Older adults are more subject to pain because their nerves and the insulation around them are shrinking. Problems in the cardiovascular system may reduce the blood supply needed to nourish and support the nerves properly. Messages may not be relayed from your body to your brain as rapidly slowing down your movements, leaving you less coordinated and weaker.
Pain does not always equal problems. You can have an absolutely normal CT scan and feel intense pain or have multiple problems on your CT and have very little pain. Research studies indicate that those with chronic pain often have lower-than-normal levels of endorphins in their spinal fluid. Endorphins are opioid neuropeptides and peptide hormones produced by the central nervous system and pituitary gland. They relieve stress and pain.
How can you boost your endorphins?
- Move your body that was designed to move.
- Increase your heart rate to increase the production of endorphins
- Movement helps with the stiffness that can cause pain
- Eat chocolate
- Mood boosting
- Eat chili peppers – the hotter, the better
- Drink wine – a small amount of alcohol at the end of the day can boost endorphins
- Have sex – feels good, relieves stress, and releases endorphins
- Get a massage, chiropractic adjustment, or hydrotherapy to stimulate endorphin release
- Meditate – relaxing and focusing the mind increases endorphins, dopamine, serotonin and melatonin
- Laugh – lifts spirits and relieves tension
Notice: two ways to increase your body’s natural ability to produce endorphins are part of a yoga practice: exercise and meditation. Physical strength is directly connected to central nervous system health and that is where the endorphins are produced. Exercise increases nerve branching and often regeneration of nerve cells. Additionally, it helps keep your cardiovascular system health get more oxygen and nutrients to your brain keeping it healthy.
Pain is very stressful. Chronic stress can create fear, anxiety, depression, kill off neurons and shrink the hippocampus resulting in memory loss. The movement of gentle yoga helps to relieve stress. The process of listening-to-and-following-instructions distracts your brain from the pain and provides you with some relief. Over a period of time tightness in your muscles relaxes giving you greater range of motion; the joints are lubricated by synovial fluid and they feel better; you increase your skills and feel good about yourself. As you learn to manage your pain and stress your cardiovascular and system works better and your risk of diabetes is reduced.
Meditation is an effective tool to relieve stress and quieting your mind. As you become more skilled in your practice you can learn how you, personally, are reacting to the pain and how you can slowly gain control over your mind’s reaction to pain.
Bell, Baxter MD, and Zolotow, Nina, Yoga for Healthy Aging, 2017, Shambhala Publications, pp 109-123.
Yours in wellness,
Janet Rae Humphrey, C-IAYT