Pain relief just for you
On Saturday just gone, the lovely Monica from Simply Yoga invited me to speak on pain management following her Saturday morning class. Thank you so much for the invitation Monica x
What is pain?
Pain is your body's response to stop you doing something that could cause damage to your body; or once that damage has been caused to slow you down, to allow the body time to repair.
Think about a hangover - your body feels that it has been poisoned with alcohol so to stop you doing so much you get a screaming headache and are possibly sick if you've drunk even more than enough. This allows your body more time with more resources to clear the poison from your system.
I asked everyone a few questions. Here are those questions and some answers I received:
What kind of pain do you experience?
Joint pain, muscle pain, bloating, abdominal, headaches, emotional
What triggers your pain?
Pushing too far into a yoga pose, eating certain things, doing too much, accidents/trips/slips. Chronic inflammation in the body can also contribute to pain.
What helps you feel better when in pain?
Analgesics, moving, doing nothing, yoga, sleep
What can YOU do for YOUR pain?
We are all different. Different builds. Different joint structures. Different personalities. Different likes & dislikes.
Our bodies respond differently to different things. I cannot cope with high intensity activities, synthetic scents, a lot of noise, most western alcohol and certain medications. You are probably different. A few people said yoga and/or walking make them feel better. Some people love yoga, some people don't. I know people who hate walking.
Do something you enjoy
The breath - diaphragmatic breathing, deep breaths that move the belly up and down; massages the vagus nerve, encouraging the body to move from fright/flight/freeze more towards rest/digest/repair mode. Levels of adrenaline and cortisol are reduced in the blood stream, allowing the digestive and immune systems to start working again. As the immune system fires up, injuries and damage are more effectively are repaired. Inflammation is also decreased.
Also in pain, we often have another step to overcome - in pain our breath becomes exta shallow. We may curl our shoulders and upper chest forward. We may curl our hips up as we curl into a ball. This leaves very little room for the breath to move in and out. We need to open up as much as we can. If the pain makes it difficult to sit up straight, or pull the shoulders back, at least work to get the belly rising and falling to get the vagus nerve to help move you more towards rest/digest/repair than the were before the breathing exercise.
Breathe deeply, comfortably, smoothly
Yoga is wonderful!
It provides strengthening, stretching and mindfulness. It slows us down in a world that just seems to keep increasing its pace. It can help reduce chronic inflammation. It even seems that it effects gene expression for inflammation in the opposite way that stress does. This research article describes the effect of yoga and other mindful practices on gene expression for inflammation.
But if you are in pain, you can get nervous about moving, or concerned about doing certain poses. Or you may move outside of the best alignment FOR YOUR BODY leaving yourself open for other possible injuries. See the first picture on this page. Lovely straight alignment from heel through to crown, BUT my extended foot was not planted flat. I could slip leading to a groin tear, or collapse forward possibly hurting my back. Always keep in mind the can and should levels that work best for your body to make your yoga sustainable for you. Focus on the feeling in the muscles and the stability of your base of support, you will quickly feel when something is not quite right.
If you are holding your breath, you are not comfortably doing the pose. If you push too far into a pose, your breath may also start to catch, so use the movement of the breath as an indication of how safe your body is feeling in the pose.
Whether you are injured or not, when you do yoga it is important to move mindfully. And ideally not just in class, but all the time.
But let's start with in class:
- keep the breath moving smoothly
- stretches should be broad and warm (never a single point)
- no new pain within the practice / pain free if you start pain free
Research has shown no extra benefits for doing stretches to the point of pain. No extra muscle length, no better performance. Also if you move to the point where the stretch is strong, you will have a hard time convincing your nerves to fire in a way that will allow the muscles to relax. Your brain must instruct the muscles to relax - if it doesn't you are tearing muscle fibres. Take a gentle stretch, breath smoothly, then take that gentle stretch a little further as it eases off. When you pull on a muscle it contracts to reduce the chance of the muscle being pulled to far. When you move gently, the brain understands that the muscle is safe.
We often have several different people in several different variations of a pose in our classes because everyone is different. It is important to find the best way for each individual to to each pose. Here is the link to our timetable - come along to try a class with that individual focus on your comfort.
Do yoga in a way that is comfortable for you
Social support - have a group of people you can regularly connect with and are comfortable talking to. A place where you feel heard and can provide an ear for others. A supportive social network is important in pain management. It may be pure distraction, but don't forget that as you enjoy your social life you are getting more of the positive neurotransmitters flying around your system, so it can be effective pain relief.
So enjoy your cuppa after yoga :)
Pilates - how is it different to yoga, and how can it help in pain management?
Generally speaking yoga focuses on several groups of muscles for both stretching and strengthening, but a lot of the focus tends to be on stretching.
Pilates looks at strengthening, often isolating one muscle or a specific group of muscles to improve overall stability within a joint or the core. Core stability is the basis of all Pilates movement. Yoga helps this but does not focus specifically on the 'usual suspects' - muscles that are made lazy through modern lifestyle - as much as Pilates does. A good pilates class will finish with some stretching to allow the muscles to relax after the hard work they put in.
Pilates can help reduce pain from sciatica as the core and Gluteus Medius get stronger taking the pressure off the lower back which had been doing all the work. It has reduce shoulder and neck tension by reteaching your body which muscles to use when lifting things or your own body weight. It can reduce the chance of lower back injury by strengthening leg muscles made lazy by sitting at desks and driving. As even though we now all lift with good OHS techniques, if our legs aren't strong enough, we will still engage the lower back muscles leading to possible injury.
We provide pre-beginner and beginner level Pilates in small classes to ensure you are not only using the right muscles, but also NOT using other muscles that you have been relying on for years instead of the correct muscle doing its own job. For example I was using my lower back and neck instead of my gluteals and hamstrings when sitting and lifting. This can lead to tight shoulders and lower back pain, but was resolved by strengthening my core and glutes.
Strengthen the core and other stabilising muscles that get lazy in daily life
Food - while not my area of expertise, I have found myself that when I eat certain foods I get pain responses and when I cut them out of the diet I feel better. Some foods cause more inflammation that others, Headaches, digestive pain and muscle pain all disappeared as I played with my diet and found which foods made me feel better or worse. This can be different for everyone, so please listen to those you live with if you are the cook :) You may like to look at our June blog post on pain where local nutritionist Wendy Stevens also provided her tips.
Other modalities can also help with pain. And some are just lovely to treat yourself with regularly as well as part of your pain management eg massage :)
Try other modalities: EG nutritionists, naturopaths, massage, and osteopaths