Pain as a physical and emotional experience is what makes us human. Pain is essential for our survival. It warns us about danger and triggers the reflexes so we can get away from whatever is threatening to hurt us. And yet, pain is the one thing we want to steer clear of, at its slightest hint.
Where and how we feel pain as well as how much pain we feel depends on our previous experience of pain, our mental state at the time when the pain comes and what our expectations are for its future. This makes pain extremely subjective and extremely challenging to treat.
The area in the brain that receives pain signals, known as the limbic region, shares many of the same messengers as the mood signals. Our unpleasant ‘feelings’ such as pain, depression and anxiety travel along similar pathways in our nervous system and work on the same biological mechanisms. It has been proven that parts of the brain that control emotions and pain are altered in people who suffer from chronic pain. In a circle of discomfort, chronic pain increases the risk of depression and anxiety while depression and anxiety are a strong predictor of the development of chronic pain.
The first line of defense against pain are often prescription opioids. These medicines work by disrupting the pain signal between the body part and the brain. Since opioids work by calming the brain and making the person feel relaxed, these can be habit forming and even cause addiction. With the misuse of opioids becoming rampant, doctors had been on the lookout for safer ways of pain management and there have been several new developments in this field.
Mind-body therapies is a name given to a group of healing techniques that improve the ways in which the mind interacts with bodily functions by inducing relaxation, thus increasing a sense of overall well-being. Mind-body therapies (MBTs) include a whole host of practices including breathing exercises, yoga, tai-chi, music therapy, aroma therapy, mindfulness-based stress reduction, guided imagery, Cognitive behavior therapy etc. All these integrative forms of therapies work by changing our awareness of pain and by retraining our brain in the way we respond to it. Apart from pain management, in chronic conditions too, such as fibromyalgia and irritable bowel syndrome, behavioral and psychological treatment strategies have shown benefits.
In order for mind-body therapies to work, it is key that these be made part of a daily practice. In the last two decades a growing body of research has proven that these are safe and effective in dealing with chronic conditions and pain by mitigating physical and emotional symptoms. Since these practices are non-invasive and with no side-effects, they are suitable for patients of all ages.
Mind body therapies are gaining popularity and maybe the answer for many who suffer from chronic conditions and pain.