The Impact of Chronic Pain
Did you know that more than 45% of Americans experience pain on a
regular basis? Are you one of them? Unfortunately, people tend to fall
into bad habits as the body adapts to, and becomes familiar with,
persistent pain (Duhigg 2012).
Learn what you can do mentally to better handle chronic pain. Justin
Price, MA, the San Diego–based creator of The BioMechanics Method®, has
trained thousands of fitness professionals in his corrective exercise
methods. Here he shares his insights into this topic.
The Mental Bad Habits of Pain
Many people faced with the day-in, day-out experience of chronic pain
create negative “coping” habits that actually make their conditions
worse (Thernstrom 2010). When chronic pain spikes, it often cues
sufferers to engage in behaviors that, although dysfunctional, provide a
short-term reward. For example, emotions such as anger and depression
distract the brain (as it processes those thoughts and emotions),
temporarily overriding the sensations of pain (Thernstrom 2010). These
routine habits provide fleeting relief, but they also prolong chronic
pain conditions by changing brain chemistry and altering the mind and
body’s response to pain (Thernstrom 2010).
How These Mental Habits Affect the Body
These negative emotional responses cause negative physical changes
as well. Because the body perceives persistent pain as a threat, the
fight-or-flight response is triggered, and the instinct is to adopt
protective postures and positions (Hanna 1988). Imagine an animal in
pain; it curls up to shield its body and internal organs from further
Human beings display the same defensive mechanisms by rounding the spine
and shoulders and bringing the arms across the body in protection. They
stick their head forward and clench their teeth to ward off potential
stressful interactions with others. The lower body responds by tilting
the pelvis downward and bringing the knees together to protect the
genitalia (Hanna 1988). These changes, if repeated time and time again,
can make chronic pain worse, causing joint inflammation, disease and
The Importance of Rest and Recovery
So what can you do to help with chronic pain? This pain is
usually a signal that the body (along with the mind) has been taxed
beyond normal limits. This can be a result of chronic stress, chronic
fatigue, disease, or chronic muscle and joint pain, among other things.
Whatever the cause, your system needs rest and recovery. Daily breathing
techniques and meditation can help the mind and body relax by generating
physiological changes that promote cell regrowth and repair (Thernstrom
Developing habits to promote relaxation before sleep is something else
you can do. Strategies like consuming destressing herbal teas, turning
off the television at least an hour before bed and taking a warm bath
can all foster relaxation, rest and a proper night’s sleep.
Appropriate nutrition will also contribute to rest and recovery. A
licensed nutritionist or registered dietitian can help you to make
suitable food choices for your condition.
Massage and bodywork are other great strategies to relieve muscle
tension and foster relaxation in the short-term; they will provide
long-term benefits when integrated into regular workouts as part of a
gentle self-myofascial-release program (Price 2013; Rolf 1989).