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Managing Pain without Meds

user profile picture JAG Mar 07, 2011
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The Peak Affordability Lifestyle

If I were to summarize everything I have learned from Dr. Martenson and this community over the last few years into one statement, it would be “our future is unaffordable.” The mechanism by which our unaffordable future is realized – be it inflation, deflation, Peak Oil, resource scarcity, currency crisis, or overt corporate corruption – is largely irrelevant. The bottom line for each one of us and our families is that we can no longer expect the macro economy to provide for our needs. Our best chance at surviving the myriad of future predicaments facing us is to develop the capacity to provide for our own needs and to progressively achieve functional independence from the economy-at-large. I like to refer to this daunting process as “adapting the Peak Affordability lifestyle,” as it is really much more than just an agenda of preparations; it’s a way of life.

One particular personal need that is destined to become increasingly unaffordable, or even unavailable, is healthcare. The field of healthcare encompasses an infinite number of subjects and topics, but today I want to focus on one particular aspect of healthcare that people frequently feel helpless to address on their own: managing physical pain. Although physical pain complaints, such as low back pain, headaches, etc, are typically not life-threatening conditions, they nevertheless are perfectly capable of destroying a person’s life. This is an extremely unfortunate situation, because the majority of these pain complaints result from a simple misunderstanding about the nature of physical pain. 

My intention with this post is to provide the reader with an understanding of common pain complaints that will empower them to effectively deal with these disorders on their own, without the need of professional healthcare services. My wife and I run a small pain clinic in Houston, and the insights shared in this post are garnered from several decades of study and clinical experience. 

Don’t Kill The Messenger

The natural reaction for a person in the throes of a physical pain complaint is to identify their pain as the problem itself, and overlook the fact that the sensation of physical pain is merely a form of communication. As such, most people mistakingly turn to painkillers as a solution to these particular disorders. This approach never works, because by “killing the pain,” one is also blocking the very information that is needed to find an effective solution to it. 

The most effective use of painkillers is to promote sleep, as regular sleep is critical to the body’s healing process. When you are awake, however, you are best served by avoiding the use of painkillers. Pain is information, and the first step to finding a solution to your pain complaint is being open to the flow of this information.

Your Pain Has A Purpose

The purpose of pain is to protect an injured body tissue. While this statement seems dreadfully obvious, it is remarkably easy to overlook this fact when pain has seized control of your daily life. The mechanism by which pain acts to protect an injured tissue is a twofold process.

  1. The sensation of physical pain itself is an attempt to make you consciously aware of the injury; it is seeking your attention. At first, it may attempt to get your attention with a “whisper,” but this quickly escalates to a “roar” if you choose to ignore it. 
  2. It uses your conscious awareness of the injury to modify your behavior and physical activity in a way that prevents you from damaging the injured tissue further.

A simple example of this process occurs when you sustain a cut on your foot. The pain associated with the cut both makes you aware of the injury and prevents you from walking on the foot so that the cut can heal. But in many cases, the injury is not as obvious as a simple cut. This is particularly true in pain complaints involving the neuromuscular system, such as low back pain, shoulder pain, hip pain, etc. The key to identifying the injury (or injuries) in these disorders lies in understanding how the presence of a particular pain modifies your normal bodily movement or physical activity.

Get To Know Your Pain

Early on in my study of the various manual therapies, I came across the remarkable story of Moshe Feldenkrais (D.Sc.). Dr. Feldenkrais worked as a physicist during World War II, and was the first European to earn a black belt in Judo after the war. Throughout his adult life, he was plagued by pain in a knee that he had injured playing soccer when he was younger. Several doctors he consulted advised that surgery was his only option, and that even with surgery, his chances of ever walking normally again were only 50/50. Frustrated with his lack of viable options, Moshe became determined to fix his knee himself. One day he surprised his colleagues by jumping up in the air and slapping his injured knee several times. All were astonished that he was apparently pain-free after so many years of suffering. Several months later, over libations, Moshe revealed to them how he had healed his knee; he personified his knee pain and made a real effort to ‘get to know it.’ Instead of trying to avoid his pain, like he had done for most of his adult life, he gave it his complete attention. “I soon as I had complete awareness in my knee joint” Moshe said, “I had no pain in it.”

Dr. Feldenkrais went on to write numerous books on his method of pain-relief, and his work became collectively known as The Feldenkrais Method of Somatic Education. While I would highly recommend becoming familiar with his work, the essential application of his method boils down to taking some time to understand your pain in greater detail. This process involves answering these two basic questions:

  • What activities, body movements, and body positions make the pain worse?
  • What activities, body movements, and body positions make the pain better?

Take some time to explore your pain. You will be amazed at how the simple act of giving physical pain your complete conscious attention, if only for a short period of time, can transform even the most unbearable pain into a kinesthetic sensation that is both tolerable and manageable.

Trigger Points And Referred Pain

While many in this community may be familiar with the term “trigger point” from an economic perspective, this term is also used to describe a very common, but relatively unknown, type of injury that occurs in muscle tissue. A myofascial trigger point is most simply described as a micro-spasm within a muscle. Trigger points occur when we place a demand on a muscle that it is unaccustomed to, or not “conditioned” to perform. As the muscular system takes most of the brunt, or “wear and tear,” of our daily life, trigger points are much more common than injuries to the joints, tendons, and bones.

One of the more fascinating aspects of trigger points is that they produce a type of physical pain known as referred pain. Referred pain simply means that the pain is experienced in a region of the body that does not contain the injury, or source of the pain. As you might expect, this phenomenon can create a great deal of confusion, as the actual injury is often not found where it appears to hurt. 

An example of trigger point referred pain is the common headache. A person experiencing pounding pain in their temples, is naturally going to conclude that the problem is systemic in nature. Maybe they think it’s caused by high blood pressure, a migraine attack, or if the pain persists long enough, they may even entertain the idea of a brain tumor. But, the most frequent cause of a pounding headache is referred pain from trigger points in the Trapezius muscle, that lies in the upper back and neck region of the body.

This begs the question, “Why would the pain from an injury in an upper back muscle be experienced in the head?” To answer this question we only need to examine how this referred pain causes you to modify your activity and movement. Most people, when faced with a pounding headache, are inclined to lay down for a while and immobilize their head. As the Trapezius muscle functions to move the head, immobilizing the head serves to allow this muscle group to rest, and prevents further aggravation of the trigger point(s) contained within it. 

Another fascinating aspect of the referred pain phenomenon involves phantom limb pain. It is quite common for people who have had an arm or leg removed because of traumatic injury or disease, to continue to experience pain in that limb. Quite often, this phantom limb pain is referred pain from trigger point activity in trunk or neck muscles, and responds very well to the appropriate Trigger Point Therapy protocol. 

What Should I Do?

So let’s say you find yourself in a situation where you or a loved one is incapacitated by physical pain, and no doctor or professional treatment is available to you. What do you do? My advice would be the following;

  • Before you get into that situation, educate yourself on Trigger Point Therapy. One excellent book that I would recommend is The Trigger Point Therapy Workbook: Your Self-Treatment Guide for Pain Relief, Second Edition by Clair Davies. You can also view parts of this book in Google Books
  • My wife, Dr. Laura Perry, and I also host a website where you can get information about trigger points and Trigger Point Therapy. You can visit our site at Additionally, for those interested in learning more about the practice of Trigger Point Therapy, you might want to take our free online introductory course in Clinical Trigger Point Therapy. While this course is geared towards the professional therapist, many nonprofessionals have found its content valuable.
  • And most importantly, don’t try to avoid your physical pain. Give it your complete attention and learn from it. Now if only we could get the politicians to adapt this approach to the “3 E” pain facing us all, the world could be a better place.

Thank you for reading this and I hope you find this information useful.

Best, JAG

P.S. Don’t tell my wife that I’m CaptainSheeple, LOL!


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