Anyone reading this in Blighty will certainly appreciate the concept of change when it comes to the weather! The Easter break was a non-stop rain fest, then (typically) as the kids went back to school we had blazing sun for a few days and now the temperature seems to be on a downward trend again. I think it’s probably snowing somewhere in the UK!
Change is a useful concept to grasp when considering pain. When we fall and bump or scratch ourselves we might react at first – shouting, swearing, kicking the thing we fell over etc. but only at first. We don’t continue to wail and roll around (unless you are a professional footballer!) partly because the pain subsides but also because we know that the pain won’t last long. This is quite a comfort.
It’s a bit different with chronic pain. When you’ve had pain for many weeks and months it begins to feel as if it will never go. The same activities aggravate it again and again. Or, it may flare up just when you least expect it, just when you least want it. This can be very frustrating, scary and disabling.
Often people with pain feel like their pain is a solid, insurmountable obstacle. It’s logical to try to escape, resist, get away from it. Paradoxically, this escape/avoidance behaviour often causes the pain to increase. This is the point at which many people give up trying to get active or doing the things they love.
However, by tuning into your sensation of the pain, periodically, you begin to see how your experience of pain can and does change on a moment to moment basis. Appreciating this fluidity can help you to notice that, even if you’ve had pain for a long time, it’s not fixed, it’s not permanent.
How do I do this?
Rather than trying to block the pain out or avoid it can you spend some time sitting quietly and tuning in to what you are feeling in your body? Ideally, don’t start this on a day when your pain is at its peak as it will be too hard to focus on.
Sit comfortably in a quiet space and notice objectively:
What sensation do I feel and where? Is it static or moving?
How would I describe the pain? What colour is it? Size, Shape? Texture?
Just a take a few minutes to really explore what's there - with interest, not judgment - and then repeat at times throughout the day. You will notice that every time there are differences. Sometimes these will be big changes, but other times they will be subtle. The important thing is to understand that changes occur all the time and our experience can too.
But this isn’t just about a change in perception. The biology changes too. We have receptors all over our body that detect all sensations such as pressure, temperature and chemicals. There are no pain receptors but danger receptors. Receptors give important feedback to the Central Nervous System regarding all sorts of information about the body’s status. If enough receptors open a danger message is sent to the spinal cord as a warning of a potential problem. It may surprise you to know that these receptors only live for a few days. If the demand is reduced in a particular area then fewer will be manufactured over time. This shows that our sensitivity really is changing all the time.
Sensors change, our bodies change and so can our experience of pain.