In last week’s article, I introduced the Chinese Medicine concept that all forms of pain are caused by stagnation, and I explained that the standard of care for traumatic injuries – rest, ice, compression, and elevation – may actually inhibit the healing process. This week I’ll cover some interventions that do work to facilitate the resolution of pain – they’re things that everyone should know. All of them are ways of promoting movement to liberate stagnation.
1. Breathe. Our energy follows our breath. I discussed this in the context of stress and relaxation, where slowing the breath can calm agitation and crazy thinking. As it relates to pain, breathing fully and deeply encourages movement of life energy (Qi in Chinese medicine; prana in the yogic tradition) and blood. This helps to alleviate stagnation and ease pain.
Simply taking long, deep breaths, inhaling into the belly and making the exhale as long as you can, will calm your nervous system and reduce pain. You can usually get even better results by imagining the breath is moving through the painful area. If your elbow hurts, for instance, imagine you’re drawing air in through your elbow and then exhaling out your elbow, visualizing energy coursing through the region as you do so. If your pain is emotional, there will still be a part of the body where the emotion is most strongly felt, and this should be the focal point of your breathing. If you’re having a painful experience, keep breathing deeply and fully as you move through it.
2. Get a massage. Massage, at its most basic level, is the practice of mechanically breaking up stagnation and restoring proper flow. Regardless of the nature of your pain, massage will probably help. Plus, it feels good – how many medical interventions can you say that about?
While massage is an integral part of the healing practices of so many cultures, it is greatly undervalued in the United States. Maybe we have a hard time separating the idea of therapeutic touch from sexual touch. Maybe we just think things that feel good are indulgent and bad for us. But the reality is that the great majority of pain benefits from massage, which is a more impressive claim than can be made of nearly any conventional pain therapy. And human touch is a basic human need.
Although I believe there is no substitute for having someone else give you a massage, even self-massage can often be enormously beneficial. I have saved myself from severe pain countless times by rolling on a small, firm ball (a lacrosse ball is my favorite).
3. Drink water. It’s cheap and it’s easy. Dehydration makes almost any kind of pain worse, and some pain is entirely due to being dried out. So, first thing, make sure you’re drinking at least half the number of pounds you weigh as ounces of room temperature water each day. (That is, if you weigh 120 pounds, you should drink 60 ounces of water, a little at a time over the course of the day.)
Water is essential to the elasticity of our connective tissue and the fluidity of our joints. When I’m dehydrated, my neck and shoulders get tight and my head starts to hurt. I know that means I’ve forgotten about water.
Don’t undervalue the simple just because it’s simple. Just drink more water, get some massage, and breathe more deeply. Next week I’ll have more strategies for you.
Meanwhile, be well,
Dr. Peter Borten