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How do you deal with pain? Reach for painkillers? Try to ignore it and carry on with your day-to-day activities? Rush off to book an appointment with your doctor?

Have you ever paused and checked how constructive it is? No? Then why not get curious and see if there is a more helpful approach you can take.

Here at The Helpful Clinic, we deal with pain across three dimensions: physical, mental and social – our 3D approach. 

Time to start ‘Sherlocking’ your pain

The first step in getting curious about your experience is to start Sherlocking your feelings. Now what do we mean by ‘Sherlocking’? Here’s a Helpful definition to give you an idea:

Sherlocking is the purposeful process of following the clues your feelings are giving you in order to help you understand the information they contain and make a helpful choice.

In other words, Sherlocking is all about turning detective and searching for clues to what your feelings (in this case pain) are telling you. 

You’ll find that your feelings, in this case pain, are alerting you to something in particular. For example, a headache could be a sign that you’re dehydrated. A stomach ache could be letting you know you’ve eaten something that’s not good for you. Numbness in your extremities (the ends of your fingers and toes) could signal that you’re cold or need to move.

All of these signs and more are your body’s way of telling you that you need to do something. That’s why pain is uncomfortable, it’s designed to make you take action to address the source of the pain.

What’s your pain triage routine?

Whether you realise it or not, we all have a pain triage routine that we go through when we experience pain. In the same way that triage nurses in hospitals assess patients and assign priorities to them based on their injuries, you triage any pain you experience to decide how to deal with it.

So for something like a cut finger, many people’s triage would involve checking the wound to see how deep it is, cleaning it with an antibacterial solution and covering it with a sticking plaster (providing it’s not too serious). Others may simply suck their finger until the bleeding stops and not even bother with a bandaid.

But what about when the pain is not as simple as a cut finger? What about when it’s internal pain that is affecting your ability to move normally, think straight and go about your daily routine? How do you triage and respond to that pain?

Are you like Paul with all the painkillers, whose experience you can read about in our last blog here.

Or more likely to grit your teeth and try to ignore the pain until it becomes debilitating. Or pick up the phone and book an appointment to see your doctor. Or is it Dr Google for you? What do you do?

The Helpful approach to dealing with pain

Pain management strategy

If you are experiencing recurring or chronic pain, it’s important to have a pain management strategy which puts you in the driving seat of your experience, rather than be at the mercy of your pain. It’s also important to develop your Sherlocking skills to understand the clues and information that the pain contains. This will help you resolve, reduce or manage the pain depending on what’s appropriate in your situation. 

Your local health provider may be able to refer you to a pain clinic or you can access health support, such as the 1-2-1 support we provide to help build such a pain management strategy, get curious about all three dimensions of the pain you’re experiencing and address the underlying causes.  

Here at The Helpful Clinic, we use a number of tools and techniques to help people better deal with chronic pain. Alongside traditional medical support, we have found that these methods really help many of the people we support. But don’t just take our word for it… research shows them to be helpful too.

Helpful pain management techniques

  • Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) – an approach that seeks to re-programme your thoughts, behaviours and beliefs. A helpful resource when it comes to beliefs is Robert Dilts’s book, Beliefs: Pathways to Health and Well-Being. It’s designed to help you effectively identify and remodel limiting beliefs.
    More information on NLP here. 
  • Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) – bringing together the Chinese Meridian/Energy-Lines system (often used in acupuncture) and western psychology. Instead of using needles, EFT uses your own fingertips to tap on the points whilst talking about the symptom, emotion or experience you are having. More information here.
  • Clinical hypnosis – is a strand of hypnotherapy. Clinical hypnosis uses methods where you gently close your eyes to more easily access your subconscious with the help of your practitioner. David Spiegel MD has done extensive research on the power and benefits of hypnosis for pain relief and support. Read his bio and list of publications here.
  • Coaching – all about spotting opportunities for improvements as well as bearing in mind how far you have already travelled, reminding you to recognise your qualities, skills and achievements so far. More information available here and here.
  • Meditation and mindfulness – practices that focus on increasing your awareness of your own experience and deepening your understanding of how and why you perceive the world as you do. Have you tried either? The Insight Timer platform has a great blog about the science of mindfulness here.
The link between diet and health is the focus of a growing amount of research.

Food as medicine 

There’s a growing body of research on the importance of food and nutrition for not only good health, but also better recovery following an injury or illness. In fact, with the emergence of functional medicine — which sees a functional medicine practitioner provide care based on the body system affected, not the condition diagnosed — food and nutrition have become even more prominent.

Depending on your body’s needs and issues, certain foods like gluten, dairy or meat may be affecting and escalating symptoms or it could be that you’re allergic to nickel for example and just don’t know it yet.

Increasing certain foods (think e.g. rainbow coloured) and reducing others (think e.g. fried) is not new but these last 15-20 years there’s been a significant increase in our understanding of how we can tailor certain foods to support specific issues.

For example, one food that is attracting a growing amount of attention is turmeric, long touted across India and Asia for its medicinal properties. Research also now shows that turmeric can indeed be beneficial to our health as it’s main ingredient curcumin can help with oxidative and inflammatory conditions.

Two other foods that are often praised for their health benefits are kimchi and ginger. Fermented Korean favourite kimchi is often touted as having anticancer and antioxidant properties. Meanwhile, ginger has been shown to have anti-oxidative and anti-inflammatory benefits.

Learning to move your body in certain ways will help your health

Bodywork and support 

In addition to food and nutrition, there are also plenty of techniques and interventions that help you learn to move and support your body in ways that will help your health.

As this Mayo Clinic article points out, tai chi is a great way to reduce stress and anxiety, both of which can come about as a result of pain or cause of pain. Originally developed for self-defence, tai chi has evolved into a graceful form of exercise that’s often described as “meditation in motion”.

Yoga, emphasises both mental and physical fitness – two out of three of our 3D areas. As this Harvard Health article outlines: ‘yoga can help people with arthritis, fibromyalgia, migraine, low back pain, and many other types of chronic pain conditions.’

If you’ve never tried yoga, but fancy giving it a go, what better day to start than the International Day of Yoga, which is celebrated every year on June 21.

It can also be helpful to get hands-on physical support, e.g. Shiatsu, osteopathy, aromatherapy and somatic experiencing to name a few. It can be helpful to speak to an experienced practitioner to help guide you to which of those methods (or others) are likely to be helpful to what’s going on for you.

What all these have in common is that they help both easing pain and supporting the body’s own repair mechanism.

What is the pain saying?

Have you ever considered having a conversation with your pain to determine what it’s telling you? While it might sound a little strange if you haven’t, don’t forget that pain is your body’s way of telling you that something is up and to alert you to something about it. 

Imagine your pain had a little speech bubble coming out of it. What is it trying to say? What does it need? How can you help it?

We used this technique the other day when working with a football player. They recently experienced a hamstring injury and were struggling with having been off the field for some weeks. When we asked the pain how much longer it needed to heal? The answer came back “a week”. They were really surprised but once we’d talked it through, it made sense. We also addressed the frustration of not being able to be back on the pitch again ASAP.

Sometimes it can be really interesting and revealing to have these conversations. It’s important to note that having conversations with your pain doesn’t always yield answers. So you may need to experiment to see the results. Remember to keep a practical head on and check if the ‘answers’ feel helpful?

Pain metaphors

Last but certainly not least are the metaphors that pain can conjure up. It’s interesting to explore the words we use and the metaphors that they contain. What do we mean by this? Well, let’s say you’re experiencing neck pain. Is there someone in your life who’s a pain in the neck?  

Digestive issues could be alerting you to the fact you’re finding something difficult to stomach. Perhaps you’re noticing some testicular pain? Has someone recently kicked you in the balls, metaphorically speaking? Tinnitus could be a metaphor for not wanting to hear something. While sight problems could be an indication that you are avoiding seeing something.  

I recently had laryngitis and so I got curious about whether there was something I wasn’t talking about or whether I’d said something I didn’t want to say.

You may find such metaphors helpful. You may not. Again, it’s all about experimenting and seeing where it takes you. 

Our invitation to you…

This is the third and final blog in our three-part series on pain. If you haven’t already done so, we invite you to also read the first (What is pain and how does it work in the body) and second (Are painkillers making your pain worse) blogs, to get the complete overview.

Our invitation to you today is to get curious about your pain and start Sherlocking your feelings. Then, consider the Helpful approach to pain, including food and nutrition and bodywork to see if you can discover a more Helpful way to deal with pain.

In our next blog we’ll be looking at relationships and how relationships can affect your physical, mental and social health.

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Go gently, hold steady, stay the course.
All the best, Thor