I had the chance to interview Ya-Ling Liou, D.C., author of Every Body’s Guide to Everyday Pain, an easy-to-understand new book that helps readers help themselves as they work through their everyday pain. Ya-Ling Liou has practiced chiropractic medicine for 20 years. Her diagnostic expertise takes into account how the body’s mechanical systems, as well as its chemical and emotional systems, contribute to pain.
When someone experiences pain that comes from out of the blue, what should they ask themselves?
It’s important to clarify that pain that comes from out of the blue is of the “everyday” variety, such as neck or back pain that occurs several times a year, but that your doctor has told you has no specific cause. If there’s any concern that it’s something more serious, I urge you to seek professional medical help first. Barring any more complex contributing health issues, the very first question to ask yourself is: “What was I doing when the pain started?”
Sometimes the answer gives clues about body positioning and mechanics of movement. Sometimes it’s about what other extenuating circumstances — like stress, fear or sadness — might have been surrounding a normally average activity or position. Strong emotional stressors can chemically amplify the body’s reaction to minor physical strain.
What can people do to make their everyday pain go away?
The first thing to do is hit the pause button. It’s important to stop doing what’s feeding the fire of inflammation, and therefore pain. Stop doing what hurts. It seems like common sense, yet it can be a very tricky thing to figure out.
This goes back to the first question you should ask yourself: “What was I doing when the pain first hit?” It’s very likely that the answer will tell you exactly what you need to stop doing. This doesn’t mean stop doing it forever, or that there was anything terribly wrong with what you were doing. But until your body has a chance to repair and relearn safe options, it’s a good idea to get out of your own way.
What happens when someone ignores or tries to push through their pain?
We are amazingly adaptive creatures — unfortunately, to a fault. The brain learns how to be “good” at being in pain neurochemically. We have powerful anti-inflammatory, painkilling chemicals inside us. When it’s appropriate, the brain launches this response (the same response governing our fight, flight or freeze reaction in cases of emergency), which gives us the ability to power on. But this is a tool designed only for short bursts. It’s not meant for long-term use. When we ignore our pain for weeks, months, or sometimes years at a time, there’s a real risk that we train our brains to see a chemical reward for pain.
When perpetuated this way, pain becomes “centralized.” This means we may no longer have a physical cause for pain, but the chemicals in the brain continue to signal that there is pain. When we ignore relatively minor everyday aches and pains, we run a real risk of starting down the slippery slope of chronic pain.
What changes can people make to keep their pain from returning?
The main change we all need to make is to our paradigm for pain. We need to recognize that pain is instructive. Respect it. Stay open to the information that’s being communicated. Know that the body has our best interest at heart. If we pay attention, pain should not have to become chronic or disabling. This is the most significant step towards increasing the quality of your life moving forward.
Some of the purest and most accurate information is what we learn from our own physical sensations. The body doesn’t lie. We just need to learn how to tune in and change our behavior accordingly. Sometimes it’s hard to do this without a little guidance from someone who can tell you where your situation falls on the spectrum. It’s easy to not be able to judge for ourselves how to proceed safely — what to do, and what not to do. I try to provide the groundwork for this in this first volume of the book. In volume two, I’ll be revealing more specifics that build further on this groundwork of understanding.
Learn more about Ya-Ling Liou at www.returntohealth.org.
[amazon template=iframe image&asin=B014DYFF4E]