When Pain Is Not Your Foe, but Friend
by Dr. Thorin Gault
Our society is pain obsessed. Just look at the advertisements on television or in magazines. There are countless products or services out there promising to fix, relieve and decimate pain of all kinds. If you spend any time eavesdropping in a public place with people over the age of 35 you will likely notice that the main topics of conversation are aches and pains, other health problems, and all of the treatments they are undergoing to fix those issues.
Despite all the effort put forth to battle pain, the result for most people is that they will progressively experience more of it as they age. There are many effective ways to treat pain in the short term, yet the long-term outcome is that they get even more of what they don’t want. This is so common that it is considered “normal.”
Perhaps treating pain as an enemy to be managed, fought and destroyed is a poor strategy to attain good health in the long term? What if there was a different approach that would not lead to a slow but inevitable decline into ever increasing misery? What if you were to start to see pain as an evolutionary friend designed to protect and guide you for a lifetime? Perhaps just shifting your perspective could create a completely different outcome.
Now, I understand that people with major chronic pain may find the very idea of pain as a friend callous and even offensive. Be assured that you have my compassion as I have worked with many people with such afflictions. I invite you stay with me and see if applying any of the following concepts and exercises may be of assistance to you.
Pain is not by accident and always has a purpose. When we experience pain, it is our body telling us to 1) Stop what we are doing, 2) Pay attention to what is happening, and 3) Change our behaviour in some way.
Most people understand this simple and obvious formula but few actually follow it consistently. Pain is inconvenient by design but in a culture often obsessed with convenience we are taught from a young age to fight pain instead of listen to it. Please understand that this does not mean pain is the fault of the person experiencing it. Blame is counterproductive. It does not indicate we necessarily did anything wrong in the past, only that presently what we are doing no longer works.
While there is nothing inherently wrong with treating pain when it arises, if we do so without stopping, paying attention and changing our behaviour not only are we missing an opportunity to do what our body is asking us – potentially to raise our current level of health – but we are setting the stage for pain that is usually worse to return in the future. Thus the cycle most experience throughout their lives.
It is obvious that pain is not caused by a deficiency of pain medication in the bloodstream. Nor is it caused by a lack of chiropractic visits, massages, magnets, laser beams, sonic waves or cortisone shots. Why do we think those things alone will be the solution? Pain is a plea from the body to learn something new and to follow up that knowledge with new actions.
So, what can we do? Get in the habit of stopping, paying attention and asking yourself what behaviours need to change. I have been working with people in my chiropractic office using this approach for years and they have found that when they do so, not only does their quality of life improve as a result of their new actions but very often the need to treat their pain disappears when they effectively listen to the message.
Pain is a part of life. It will show up from time to time. If you shoot the messenger, who knows what is in store. If you make it your friend it can guide you for a lifetime.
The next article in this series will explore specific considerations to use when learning from and responding to pain.
A very good reasonable attitude towards pain management. Too many people look for instant relief instead of looking at the cause of their pain. The best cure for pain is prevention.
I will look forward to the next article.
Spoken like a man who doesn’t have to live with pain. Life is not a text book doctor. Too many Canadian doctors are letting patients live with pain to protect their liability.
I am not sure if you are referring to yourself as the person living with pain, or someone you care about. As I mentioned in the article, I am very sorry and feel tremendous compassion for anyone suffering. One of the reasons I became a health care professional was my own experience with debilitating back pain in my teens and early twenties. I also agree with your statement about pain treatment and liability. The fact is that agressive pain treatment is risky. That being said, because the current situation seemingly is not working, why not give this new perspective a try? Next article will have more specific ways to apply it. This is not about a text book, it is about each person finding their own way. Some people find that even if their pain doesn’t go away, their understanding of it shifts and their quality of life improves. Thank you for the comment and all the best.
Dr. Thorin, Thank you for you rebuttal. For me, the first step was to accept that pain is a way of life.
Since then, use of pharmaceuticals have diminished greatly. Your life experience has great value to all of us.