In some cases, the unrelenting nature of the pain experience can become a source of trauma. Frank was a hardworking construction worker with a wife and three small kids. One day, while carrying some heavy lumber on his shoulders, he accidentally stepped into a hole and injured his lower back. His not terribly sympathetic boss told him to just “shake it off” and come back to work after a few days. He got the feeling that his boss was upset with him, as if it were his fault that the accident happened. Unfortunately, Frank’s low back pain continued, making it difficult for him to return to work. Frank began treatment, but his pain got worse and his legs started turning numb. His boss had no patience for this and told him not to come back until he was 100 percent well.
Yoga Poses For Chronic Pain Chronic Pain Itself Is a Source of Trauma Photo Gallery
After six months of being unable to work, Frank really began to worry. He needed to support his
family and knew no other kind of work but carpentry. He kept thinking about how poorly he had been treated by his supervisor, and how guilty he felt about being in too much pain to work or even play ball with his kids. He was more emotional than usual and often broke into tears. Sometimes when he left the house, he suffered panic attacks. Then the nightmares started. Today, Frank exhibits many of the signs of trauma seen in soldiers who have lived through an enemy attack. If his doctors continue to focus solely on Frank’s back, overlooking his emotional well-being, Frank will have a great deal of trouble recovering.
Tools for Success
Pain, stress, trauma, and PTSD all cause the “pain brain” to become hyper-aroused, and finding calm within this storm is critical to effective pain management. Mastering techniques that can reduce stress and lessen fear, then, is an integral step to easing the intensity of the pain and finding relief.
Learning how to calm a sensitized “pain brain” is a great place to start. The more techniques you learn, the more empowered you will become. Many of my patients have done very well with a variety of techniques, especially:
• Still meditation
• Active meditation
• Breathing exercises
• Art therapy
• EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing)
Let’s take a brief look at each, focusing on how they help you find calm in the storm (We’ll look at how some of these therapies can also help with other aspects of chronic pain in later chapters.)