Beat Chronic Pain – By Breathing!
With all of this lock down time on our hands, we can worry too much if we aren’t careful.
The other day I read a book the other day by an osteopath who suffers himself from chronic back pain, entitled The Meaning of Pain by Nick Potter.
He puts a big emphasis on breathing as a great way to help overcome chronic pain.
In fact he is quoted as saying to his patients ‘If you don’t do your breathing exercises then there is no point in coming back’. Sounds a bit harsh? Well, yes, but his approach really does emphasise just how much benefit there is in breathing correctly in order to overcome chronic pain and also the negative effect on your chronic pain if you choose not to make sure you are breathing properly!
His point is that stress and pain have a similar effect on the body, which is to make the heart rate faster and blood pressure to go up, which causes you to breath faster and muscles to tighten.
If you are experiencing long lasting back pain or stress, your nervous system will remain on high alert all the time and as a result your muscles will tighten and remain tight – all the time too! Not only that but stress hormones levels rise too, which in turn causes the brain to be aroused – as it needs to be when comping with the threat of pain, but it is only appropriate for acute pain so that the body removes itself from the painful situation. It is not meant to be ‘on’ all the time. When your brain is hypersensitised all the time, you become more sensitive to pain signals of any kind and therefore you are more aware of any small irritation and interpret it as a threatening pain, when in fact it is not.
Your best way of breaking that cycle and to help the physical treatment you are receiving at the clinic, is to breathe correctly but first to practise deep breathing exercises.
This has been proven to be effective in scientific studies whereby the levels of stress related hormones were tested in volunteers before and after deep breathing for 20 minutes. The study was published in the BMC in 2016 Complementary and Alternative Medicine and the results showed lower stress related hormones after this deep breathing had been performed for the 20 minutes.
There are many different exercises to encourage deep breathing and they are very simple. However, you need to ensure that you are breathing from your abdomen and not your chest whilst performing them.
To make sure you are doing this, sit comfortably and put one hand on your chest and the other on your abdomen. Then breathe deeply and ensure that only the hand on your abdomen moves as you inhale, not the hand on your chest. You need to be breathing deeply from deep in your abdomen, not shallowly from your chest. A membrane divides your abdomen from your chest – the diaphragm. When you breath, your diaphragm should help to suck air into your lungs by lowering down and causing your abdomen to push out. If you are only using your chest to breathe, you can only ever take shallow breaths. When you are in pain, you often take more rapid, shallow breaths and also even hold your breath, which increases the tension in your body. If you can train yourself to realise what you are doing and then you keep doing these exercises to remind yourself of the correct way to breathe, it will become automatic and you will remember to breathe correctly and thus feel less stress and pain!
A few ways to achieve deep breathing are as follows:
Alternative Nostril Breathing
- Breathe out through your mouth.
- With your right thumb block your right nostril.
- Breathe deeply through just your left nostril while counting to 4.
- Switch sides.
- Repeat 10 times.
Four Square Breathing
Sit or lie down in a comfortable position
- Breathe in slowly while counting to 4.
- Hold your breath
- Breathe out slowly while counting to 4.
- Repeat 10 times.
- Repeat 4 – 5 times per day – maybe set an alarm every hour.
- Breathe in through your nose while counting to 3.
- Hold for 4 seconds.
- Breathe out while counting to 5
- Repeat any time during the day when stress or pain bothers you.
- Breathe in while counting to 2.
- Hold for 8 seconds.
- Breathe out while counting to 4.
- Repeat any time you want to.
28 million of us suffer from chronic pain in UK so you are not alone. Spread the word about the power of breathing. If someone asks you what you are doing – tell them. They might say they are always in pain too or stressed. Encourage them to try the exercises with you … less stress and less pain can only be a good thing!