First of Nine: Tensegrity Blog

Portland, Oregon's Cancer Survivorship and Bodywork Zine by Compassion Arts PDX, LLC

Disrupting the positive feedback loop of chronic pain

Being in pain will ruin your day. Or, make it harder to do all those things you love to do. Thankfully, we’re beginning to understand chronic pain in some new ways. Separated by the ventricles which circulate cerebrospinal fluid through the inner brain, the amygdala sits atop the hippocampus, which forms long term memory. As amygdala fires again and again in chronic pain pattern, it creates a positive feedback loop between the body and the brain. The nervous system becomes over-sensitized to stimulus.

So, we now know that pain is all in the brain. If it fires, it wires, as the saying goes. And, that means there’s hope…

Have you heard of a term called neuroplasticity? The human brain can learn and grow all throughout life, changing and morphing in response to sensory stimulation. And, with a little intervention, we can slowly shift ourselves into a new, healthier pattern. Through the mindful breath practices of meditation, we can even increase grey matter thickness and decrease amygdala size! All by ourselves! Yup, we can change our own brain!

And, though they may have their place for a short time, we don’t always need pharmaceuticals in the long-term. Tap here for a sweet five minute explanation of chronic pain from Australia.

The amygdala. Screen capture from the excellent (and free!) iOS app, 3D Brain. Check out the developer’s page Genes to Cognition Online!

We can do so much for ourselves to affect our own chronic pain patterns. It helps to have a few handy dandy self-care tools for when the day gets rough.

So, here’s First of Nine’s 10 ways to disrupt the positive feedback loop of chronic pain!

1. Peppermint. Peppermint blocks pain receptors. A drop or two of essential oil on the forehead, your third eye, just over the pineal gland should do it. The pineal gland is part of your endocrine system, where the human being produces serotonin, the bonding hormone. Or, try some Peppermint Altoids for a quick, on the go, bresh-freshening, pain diminishing possibility.

2. Grab an ice cube and hold it up to the palette, the roof of your mouth, and let it melt. Cryotherapy for the deep cranial bones!

3. I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream! Grab yourself a spoon and pack yourself a big dollop of your favorite ice cream. Let it melt on the roof of your mouth. If you’re sensitive to dairy, explore the wonderful variety of ice creams made with coconut, or rice, or hemp! And, sure… Sherbert and sorbet work too! Its ok if cryotherapy is fun! All good things in moderation, eh?

4. Go for a walk. Gear up for the weather and dress for the elements. Keep your body moving. As lifestyles become more sedentary and based indoors, human beings have begun to develop all sorts of different musculoskeletal pain. It’s more important than ever to get oneself out into the elements of nature, exposed to the rhythms of the day, and move the body.

“Let your hands touch something that makes your eyes smile. I bet there are a hundred objects close by that can do that.” -Mirabai

5. Neoteny. Nurture that childlike sense of play and adventure. Have fun! Explore your world! Explore your body! Laugh often and smile wide!

6. Spend time in good company. Find yourself in the presence of folks who uplift you, who share like minds and like hearts. Build your community and foster those lifelong connections.

7. Sniff something! Our sense of smell is really powerful! The olfactory bulb is just deep to the nose and has connections to the amygdala. Sensory information from the nose carries really quickly to the brain due to the close proximity, faster than most other senses. That same vial of peppermint essential oil makes for a great on the go sniffer. But, any strong, pleasant scent will do. A great excuse to stop and smell the tulips!

8. Get some shut eye! Regular sleep can help so much in chronic pain management. Begin to wind your way down an hour or two before bed, shutting off computers and television. Set back and savor some chamomile or lavender tea. And, save stimulants, like caffeine, for the first half of your day. Most bodies need a good 7-8 hours of sleep a day. If you have trouble resting, naps are amazing! Viva la siesta!

9. Enjoy your own company! Set aside time to spend alone. We often need quiet, restorative, contemplative time to just think and process. This is especially true of introverted, sensitive folk. If you find your mind whirling about, how about a meditative practice? Start with 5 or 10 minutes in the morning while you’re still laying in bed. Watch yourself inhale and exhale, feeling the sensations of the air going in and out your nostrils. Meditation doesn’t have to be in an uncomfortable posture. We can find mindful awareness in any moment!

Thai massage therapy performed by Sarah K. Carl, LMT (OBMT #11,624) with Jennifer Dekany, LMT (OBMT#13,900) as the client. Photography by Hamid Shibata Bennett

10. Move what hurts. Slow, gentle explorations of your range of motion, combined with mindful breathing, can move through the pain, finding more comfort where it’s currently uncomfortable. How about a yoga class to give your fascia a stretch? Or, get yourself some structurally integrative bodywork with a licensed massage therapist. Myofascial release or Thai massage is pretty darn spiffy for reducing musculoskeletal tensions. A recent study shows that massage decreases inflammation and even changes gene expression. Develop your kinesthetic awareness with bodywork and dive into your self-care!

Yeah… This list goes up to eleven….

11. Snuggle with animals! There are so many reasons why dogs and cats have been in such close company to us human beings for so long. Reaching out and petting soft fur has a way of engaging our tactile awareness and bring us to the moment. If you’re kinesthetic, touch something that makes ya smile. Some folks carry a small, smooth gemstone or something soft in their pocket for on the go tactile experiences. It’s these simple pleasurable, moments that help to naturally shift the chronic pain cycle.

What natural methods help you or your clients with chronic pain?

Hamid : )

psst… First of Nine’s deadline for the Smile contest has been extended! Enter to win Pocket Body, an excellent iOS anatomy app for iPad, iPhone or iPod! Check out the details here!

psst… psst… The pups are usually hanging out in the back room when I’m doing bodywork at Earth Body Wellness Center East on 38th and SE Belmont of Portland, Oregon. If you’d like to meet Sofie and Chaya during a bodywork session, just ask!

Bonus video!

Chaya and Sofie wanted to say howdy, so I cobbled together a short film. The pups are unconditional love in furry bundles of happy. They surely help to lessen my own chronic pain. This was shot with the Panasonic GF1 and edited in iMovie on the 24″ iMac. The song on the soundtrack is Four Winds Wednesday, recorded and mixed in Multitrack DAW on the iPad 2.

The movie is called Dogs in Bokeh. Mmmm… Tasty!

iPad users, if the video does not appear, tap in the blank space above, or tap here.

12 comments on “Disrupting the positive feedback loop of chronic pain

  1. Christina
    February 15, 2012

    Thanks for such an insightful, well-written post! Disrupting the brain pain barrier is such an important topic. Love the Australian YouTube video, now that’s some quick sketching. Lots of love to the dogs!

  2. Hans Quistorff
    February 15, 2012

    And if you have an older pet, snuggling up to them may help their aches and pains also.
    Don’t know mindful movement? You need a coach like Hamid or myself.

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    August 2, 2013

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  11. (that's me) in the corner...
    October 31, 2013

    Great piece. Again, I would love to learn this, integrate it into my thai massage work. LOVE your pups….kisses to them. I can’t wait to meet them sometime.

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Compassion Arts PDX, LLC

Hamid Shibata Bennett, LMT, CAMT (OBMT #301)
Advanced massage therapy and bodywork
3810 SE Belmont ST
Portland, Oregon 97214

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