Effortless Pain Relief: A Guide to Self-Healing from Chronic Pain

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9780743260756: Effortless Pain Relief: A Guide to Self-Healing from Chronic Pain
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A physician and fibromyalgia sufferer shares her personal mind-body program for overcoming pain, identifying key causes of pain while outlining a course of muscle relaxation, stress management, and emotional control.

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About the Author:

Ingrid Bacci, Ph.D., C.S.T., CAT, is a certified craniosacral therapist and a licensed teacher of the Alexander Technique. Bacci develops and teaches seminars on chronic pain management for the HMO Oxford Health. She also teaches craniosacral therapy nationally for the Upledger Institute, the world's largest alternative bodywork teaching institute. She is an occasional guest lecturer at the Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons. A graduate of Harvard and Columbia universities, and a former fellow at Cambridge University, England, Bacci runs a private practice in her hometown of Croton-on-Hudson, New York.

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Introduction

If you suffer from chronic pain, you are not alone. Chronic pain is a social and personal problem of epidemic proportions in our society. In the course of their lifetime, 80 percent of Americans will suffer from chronic pain related to dysfunction of the muscles, bones, and joints. In 2004, at least 50 million Americans were living in chronic pain. Back pain is the leading cause of visits to doctors, hospitalization, surgery, and work disability. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated in 2002 that one-third of all Americans had some form of joint disease, most commonly osteoarthritis. And a new musculoskeletal pain syndrome, identified in 1990 as fibromyalgia, has become the second most commonly diagnosed chronic pain disorder after osteoarthritis. By 2004, an estimated 8 million people were said to be suffering from fibromyalgia, 85 percent of them women.

If you suffer from chronic pain related to the bones, joints, or muscles, have not yet found adequate relief, and feel frustrated at the limited assistance available to you, this book is for you. It offers you a thorough -- and unusually simple -- understanding of the causes of chronic neuromuscular, joint, and skeletal pain, along with a clear, step-by-step process for reducing and possibly even eliminating pain. Unfortunately, traditional health care has proven to be woefully inadequate for people suffering from chronic pain. Of all physical illnesses and nonacute problems, chronic pain is recognized as the one least susceptible to treatment with traditional health care techniques, and according to The Journal of the American Medical Association, pain is the number-one reason people turn to alternative medicine.

Traditional health care has been unable to meet the demand for effective therapy and unable to stem the growth of chronic pain. The cost to our society is increasingly burdensome. When we look at standard medical treatments for neuromuscular, skeletal, and joint dysfunctions, we see why. There are two predominant modes of therapy: surgery and medication. Each of them has significant drawbacks. Surgery is beneficial in some cases but is not always a viable option. Moreover, even where surgery is a possible form of treatment, its benefits are far more limited than the public generally believes. A survey conducted in 2003 by the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation concluded that a full 48 percent of the population believes that surgery is the only real cure for at least half of all low-back-pain cases. But, the academy continued, surgery is actually effective in less than 5 percent of cases! In a similar vein, a report published in 2003 in The New England Journal of Medicine said that doctors are far too aggressive in using operations to treat pain. Finally, according to a Norwegian study of 126 disk-surgery patients, four years after surgery those who had been operated on had equivalent levels of pain to those who had not. The implications are that the advantages of surgery are more limited than we tend to think and that anyone with chronic pain should seriously consider other options before going under the knife.

The second standard form of medical treatment for chronic pain is medication. Its goal is usually either to reduce inflammation or to suppress symptoms. It is most useful as a short-term therapy. Over the long term, however, it can result in toxic side effects, sometimes even including severe intestinal bleeding and heart disease. Patients on regular medication can also expect, as the months and years go by, to need increasing doses of such drugs, which may harm their health and which treat only the symptoms and not the source of their discomfort. They are likely to experience a gradual increase of pain and disability; anxiety over a physical condition that seems beyond their control; a sense of powerlessness; and the depressing feeling that they must live with a problem that is incurable.

While medication tends to represent the road most taken, research indicates that it can sometimes be less effective than other less expensive but more intensive and empowering therapies. For example, the U.S. Headache Consortium, led by the American Academy of Neurology, recommends relaxation training -- including meditation and progressive muscle relaxation -- over drug therapy as the therapy of choice in dealing with migraines.

Obviously, something is missing from the standard diagnosis of the causes of pain. That diagnosis usually seeks the origin of pain in a structural or biochemical imbalance. Yet the underlying cause of pain is in most cases neither structural nor biochemical. Once you understand the true causes of chronic pain, you will be able to find effective solutions that you yourself can apply to reducing your own pain, empowering yourself, and finding a better lifestyle.

When you suffer from chronic pain, you must look "outside the box" to find innovative, accurate, objective, and -- once understood -- obvious answers. The solutions offered in this book show you how you can become your own best doctor. Along the way, you will also free yourself from excessive reliance on medical and insurance options that become increasingly expensive and drain your pocketbook even as they provide mixed results.

The highlights of Effortless Pain Relief include these revelations about the fundamental causes of and solutions for chronic pain.

1. The most common cause of chronic pain is neither structural nor biochemical imbalances, but rather lifestyle habits. What causes chronic pain? In a few cases, genetic predisposition or physical trauma endured through accidents plays a role. However -- more important by far -- in a full 80 percent of cases, the single most critical factor in the development of chronic pain is lifestyle habits. In fact, even if your pain started with an accident or has a genetic basis, it is often the lifestyle habits that you have developed to accommodate to the pain that bear primary responsibility for your pain.

"Lifestyle habits," as the term is used here, are the unconscious habits that involve the way you live in your body: the way you breathe, stand, and move; and the way you store physical and emotional stress in your tissues. Over months and years, these unconscious habits foster increasing physical stress, eventually wearing down muscles, joints, and bones, thus causing escalating discomfort. You can be your own worst enemy, and your own lifestyle habits can be the cause of your dis-ease. But knowing this also has very positive implications. Just as developing unconscious habits of body and mind can result in pain, so too becoming conscious of these habits and altering them can alleviate and even eliminate pain. Rather than having to rely on outside sources to help you, you will discover that you are your best resource for reducing and even eliminating chronic pain. This simple fact makes Effortless Pain Relief the first and only complete guide to the self-empowering process of healing from chronic pain. It shows you exactly how and why the way you live in your body may have created the pain from which you suffer. It also shows you how and why changing the way you live in your body frees you from pain. Finally, it offers you a complete tool kit for implementing that process.

2. Lifestyle habits that create pain are both the expression and the cause of stress. In the course of a lifetime, we experience many forms of stress. Stress can be physical (for example, an injury or repetitive stress syndrome), mental (for example, excessive work demands), or emotional (for example, ongoing anxiety). No matter what the origin of stress, however, it is always reflected in the body. Like physical stress, mental and emotional stresses are acted out through changes at all levels of the body: biochemical, neurological, and physiological. All chronic stresses also reflect themselves in certain physical habits, or ways of experiencing and responding with your body. These habits involve unnecessary physical tensions. The tensions of lifestyle habits contribute to pain, pain creates further stress, stress creates further tension, which contributes to further pain, and so on. By understanding the many aspects of stress, how it is reflected in lifestyle habits, and how these habits create tension and discomfort in the body, you will also begin to understand how to reverse the stress and lifestyle habits that underlie your problem and reduce your pain.

3. Body awareness is the primary vehicle for changing the lifestyle habits that express and create stress and pain. Just as pain is a physical experience in your body, so too the stresses and lifestyle habits that create physical pain are experiences of your body. You can reduce your pain by becoming conscious of bodily patterns and experiences that are unconscious and by changing those bodily patterns and experiences. For example, you can reduce your pain by changing the way you breathe under stress, the way you sit at the computer, the way you walk down the street, the way you react with tension when someone challenges you, or the way you feel anxiety on a visceral level when you are under internal or external pressure.

You can reduce your pain by changing your body. This does not mean that your pain will improve as a result of your doing physical exercise. Physical exercise can be a very useful adjunct to the process of healing from chronic pain, but there are already many books available on that subject and exercise is not the best method of healing chronic pain. The best way you can heal is by becoming aware of the way you live in your body and changing it: the way you respond to situations, the way you move, the way you react to pressures around you. Healing results from heightened body awareness, and this book shows you how to develop that awareness. As you develop body awareness, you will automatically know how to release unconscious tensions that foster pain.

4. Your body teaches you how to heal from chronic pain. As you work with this book, you will explore and experience your body more fully. By enhancing your awareness of your body -- of how it feels moment by moment, how it functions, how it reacts to situations, and how it stores your personal history -- you will naturally and organically begin to learn things about your body and about yourself that you did not know. In this process, you will shift the way you live in your body, adopting patterns that reduce discomfort and increase ease, while enlarging your overall sense of well-being.

The body is a teacher. If you listen to it, you can learn from it. You will learn to listen to your body's signals. Just as emotional pain in a personal relationship can be an indication of poor communication between partners, so too, when you are in physical pain, your body may be signaling to you that you are doing something that is causing a problem. If you fail to pick up on the meaning of that signal, your discomfort may become habitual. In the chapters that follow, you will discover what it means to pick up on and respond effectively to your body's signals.

Some of the body's signals are purely physical. For example, you may lean your head too far forward when you sit for hours at the computer. This will eventually give you a headache, neck pain, or temporomandibular joint (TMJ) problems, or shoulder trouble. In this case, a physical habit of poor posture is creating pain. Yet a great many signals you receive from your body are not solely physical. They have a mental or emotional component as well because the body holds our mental and emotional stresses. These stresses -- some of which are conscious but many of which are unconscious -- are recorded as subtle body shifts and tensions, which, if held over a long period of time, cause physical distress.

We experience and express our emotions in and through our bodies. We are aware of this every time we feel our stomach flutter when we face a challenging situation: we experience a tightening of the chest or jaw in anger; or we feel our neck or shoulders tense in anticipation of a deadline. Long-term mental and emotional stresses leave their mark in the body's physiology and can contribute to your pain. As you become more aware of your body, you will also become more aware of the mental and emotional stresses that register themselves in your body and contribute to chronic pain.

5. Healing chronic physical pain can involve both your mind and your heart. All forms of stress, whether mental, emotional, or physical in origin, express themselves through unconscious habits of physical tension in the body. As you learn to release physical tension habits through heightened body awareness, you will simultaneously reap emotional and mental benefits: You will reduce mental and emotional stress. You may also become aware of mental and emotional attitudes that contribute to your pain. You may decide to let go of some of these attitudes. All aspects of our lives intersect in our bodies, and healing the body can create deep ripples of change in the type of person you want to be and how you choose to interface with the world.

6. Stress is associated with feelings of disempowerment, and disempowerment is often an ingredient in the development of chronic pain. When stressed, we feel controlled by something outside ourselves. An accident, a sudden illness, getting fired, or losing money in a stock market slide are obviously stressful, yet life also presents us with many subtler stresses: a temperamental family member who always has to be right; a rigid work environment or difficult colleagues; long commutes; a hypervigilant superego that criticizes us constantly. Much of life can feel beyond our control. When it does, we feel disempowered to some degree. Stress and feelings of disempowerment tend to go together.

The most obvious emotions that stem from a sense of disempowerment are chronic anger or frustration and chronic anxiety or fear. Effortless Pain Relief shows you how these feelings manifest as physical reactions of stress and how these stress reactions create pain. It also shows you how to use your body awareness to let go of negative emotions of fear and anger to reduce stress, become more empowered, and eliminate chronic pain. Once you see the intimate relationship among chronic pain, stress, and feelings of disempowerment, you will have a road map for healing your physical pain. In the process, you will develop greater control over your own life.

MY JOURNEY OUT OF PAIN

This book offers a unique pathway to healing from chronic pain, a pathway that takes you into a deeper experience and appreciation of your body, its messages, tools, and response patterns. I know this approach works because it is how I overcame my own crippling pain and because I have taught it to others so that they could do the same.

I have worked for years to understand and resolve the problem of chronic pain, both for myself and for my patients. Today I work as an alternative health care practitioner specializing in movement therapy and in a manual approach to bodywork called craniosacral therapy. In addition to my private practice, I teach pain reduction seminars at hospitals and HMOs, teach craniosacral therapy nationally, run retreats, write books and articles, and create audio programs and videos on reducing stress and pain. At the age of fifty-nine, I am graced with radiant health. I run, bike, swim, hike, practice yoga almost daily, and enjoy intensive circuit training workouts. But I wasn't always so healthy. Nor has my professional wo...

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