6 ways you’re causing yourself pain

Here are six unexpected pain triggers and how to tackle them


March 21, 2016

When you’re in pain or bodily discomfort, it’s difficult to focus on anything else. Blame Mother Nature, but that’s how humans are tuned. “Pain is like the oil light on your car’s dashboard — it signals that your body needs attention,” said Dr Jacob Teitelbaum, author of Real Cause, Real Cure. “Most doctors prescribe medicines to mask the pain. A better solution is to treat the problem.”

Whether you have chronic pain, the kind that lasts for at least six months or acute pain, say from a cricket injury, painkillers aren’t your only alternative to toughing it out. As compiled from Prevention magazine, here are six unexpected pain triggers and how to tackle them.

1) Anger

Holding in anger can be a pain in your back — literally. In a study, people with chronic lower-back pain were harassed and then asked to either verbally express their anger or hold it in. Those who kept reserved experienced more tension in the muscles along their spine. Tight muscles hurt — whether you have ongoing back pain or aches from lifting too much. So, follow the old motto and blow off some steam. Talking with others about your anger or even writing it down can help, experts say. Also, the next time you feel exasperated, pay heed to whether your jaw is tightening or your breathing is getting shallower. These are signs that you’re resisting your feelings, so do the opposite.

2) Your smartphone

Your cellphone may make it effortless to stay connected to your long-lost friends and surf the web but it could also be a source of pain. “If you hold your phone between your shoulder and your ear so you can multitask while talking, it forces your neck to be held in what is called the “lateral bending position” for long periods of time,” shared Teitelbaum. This causes neck and shoulder aches — and even tingling down your arm. Hunching over a cell phone too much can also cause chronic neck pain. If you’re going to be talking for more than a few minutes, use a headset or Bluetooth instead of clasping your cell with your shoulder. Holding the phone at eye level or just staying off of it can also cut down your pain.

3) Thinking the worst

“Catastrophising” or believing that a situation is much worse than it actually is can result in stress and mess with your ability to function well on a day-to-day basis. Multiple studies have linked catastrophising to a heightened perception of pain. “Emotion and pain are processed in the same area of the brain so if you’re anxious or stressed, it’s natural to feel physical pain,” said San Francisco–based psychologist Andrew Bertagnolli. “That’s not to say your pain is emotional. It’s just that there’s an intersection of the mind and body.” Nomita Sonty, a clinical psychologist and pain specialist in New York, also said, “When we catastrophise, we are focused on our worries rather than on finding solutions,” To counter this, Sonty recommends setting aside 10 minutes a day as elected worrying time! This helps you compartmentalise anxiety and prevents it from controlling your time and mind.

4) Skimping on sleep

You’ve got text messages to answer, closets to clean and lunches to pack. But if you’re putting sleep at the bottom of your to-do list, you’re going to suffer — big-time. “In the pre-Internet days, individuals slept nine hours a night,” Teitelbaum revealed. “Today we average less than six-and-a-half hours.” Your body makes the human growth hormone during sleep, which is needed for tissue repair to ease pain, he says. Moreover, people with chronic insomnia have nearly three times the risk of chronic pain, according to a study in the journal Sleep. To sleep better tonight, start by getting more sun. Morning sun exposure helps adjust your internal circadian sleep clocks. Daytime exercise and maintaining a cooler temperature in your bedroom are proven sleep aids.

5) Your work area

You might not think sitting at your desk can up your pain risk since it doesn’t feel like you’re doing anything rigorous. But everything from your posture to the way your work area is set up could potentially cause injury. Stick a blue dot on your computer monitor, and look at it every so often to remind yourself to relax your shoulders and neck. Also, ensure the top of your monitor is at or slightly below eye level so you’re not straining your neck to look up. You can even make it a ritual to get off that desk and stroll around for a couple minutes every hour. This mini exercise will keep your blood circulation going whilst uplifting your mood!

6) Loneliness

Do you find yourself spending way too much time alone? “Experiencing chronic pain can be a very isolating experience,” Bertagnolli explained. “We’re social creatures, but pain can make you withdraw from others around you and lead to feelings of depression — which has been linked to increased pain.” According to Sonty, “It’s essential to get out and do as much as you can so you don’t become isolated.” Rather than, say, skipping a friend’s anniversary brunch altogether because you don’t think you can handle sitting for six hours straight, make it a point to go and stay for only an hour. Not only will this keep your social relationships intact, it’ll also cheer you up.

Umnia Shahid

Published in The Express Tribune, March 22nd, 2016.

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