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Due to my sensitivities I can't take any kind of medicine, even over-the-counter painkillers. Handling pain means other kinds of strategies.


Learning about pain is an important part of dealing with it. Here are a few examples of current and cutting-edge medical awareness.

  • Insurance will sometimes pay for patients to attend clinics on pain and stress, for example this one at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center.
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder - The complex mind/body repercussions of grave physical harm -- or the threat of it.
  • Kindling - damage to the part of the brain that handles incoming pain signals. Chronic pain, according to current theory, is at least partly caused by overexposure of the nerves to constant stimulus. The result may be permanent neural hypersensitivity. (Kindling is a very good reason to take painkillers, if you can. But if you do, you must attend even more carefully to the causes of the pain, when the pain is not there to remind you.)
  • Fear Conditioning in the amygdala - a condition in which a part of the oldest section of the brain -- sometimes called the "reptile brain" -- has been physically rewired, so that fear keeps triggering autonomic alarm at a subconscious level, and that becomes a negative feedback loop, with the result that the immune system becomes weaker and weaker. This paper hypothesizes that this is the cause of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.
  • The Neurophysiology of Dissociation and Chronic Disease, by Robert C. Scaer, MD. This paper examines physiological mechanisms for conditions resulting from trauma, including both kindling and fear conditioning, and proposing a larger process they contribute to. Myofascial pain, fibromyalgia (as well as other kinds of chronic pain), and chronic fatigue syndrome may fall into this category.

    Among causal factors, Scaer notes: "the trauma necessary to place the individual at risk may be as subtle as adverse childhood experiences... [for example] abuse or family dysfunction.... In addition "one must remember that severe pain itself may be traumatizing, and that the medical system in which that pain was managed has many potential sources of traumatic stress."

    He does not discuss treatment in detail, but notes that biofeedback techniques such as "cerebral regulation through neurofeedback and autonomic regulation through control of heart rate variability (HRV) may have profound implications for healing trauma by providing a unique means of access to the conditioned autonomic responses that drive the trauma reflex."

    Scaer concludes by commenting that "medical science must shed the concept that a symptom not measurable by current technology is 'psychological', and therefore invalid. And physicians must reject the pejorative implications of the term somatization, and stop further traumatization of patients by subtly implied rejection."

It is important to understand that pain can result in physical changes to the brain, which may be very difficult to reverse.

Physical Strategies

  • Alternate sensory input
  • Yoga / stretching
  • Exercise
  • Massage
  • Heat and/or cold
  • Therapeutic magnets

Psychological / Spiritual Strategies

Here's a simple list:

  • Honor the experience, don't repress it.
  • Attend to caring for your body.
  • Learn strategies to reduce emotional stress.
  • Don't get all wrapped up in distress about it, find a way to be free of it even while it's going on.
  • Focus on breathing.
  • Make use of the energy.

For more detail, see Practicing with Pain and other pages linked to it, in my SkyDancer site for feminist Buddhism. In addition, With Enough Aspirin, by Luanne Armstrong, is another good description of chronic pain from someone who knows it.

© copyright Catherine Holmes Clark, 2000, 2001; last updated 23 November 2001