Issue 121 / January - February 2018
How to Deal with Pain
Pain is like our sixth sense. Biology classes and textbooks consider pain as a sensation stemming from some injury to cells or tissue, which may have died, so it is wise to pay attention when we feel pain. One may consider pain as the alarm system or fuse installed in our body.
There are two types of pain. One is called sharp or acute pain, which for example might be caused by the prick of a needle, an injury from broken glass or a sharp object like a knife, or contact of skin with a hot object like an element. Such sharp pain is especially important to protect the body through reflex. Similarly, sharp pain in internal organs such as the stomach or intestines may result from a puncture or blockage that prevents the transport of oxygen, or leakage of toxic material such as the stomach acid.
Another type of pain is continuous or chronic pain, of which one obvious example is rheumatic pain. Cancer pain is mostly chronic, although cancer may also cause sharp pain. Whether chronic or sharp, cancer pain can be unbearable, and only endurable with morphine.
What can we do about pain?
Medication should be our last resort when dealing with pain. We should remember that every drug is potentially a poison, and drugs, especially when used for a long time and in high doses, can have numerous adverse effects. Thus no drug, including aspirin, is fully innocent.
The cause of pain must first be diagnosed by a physician. A pain in the chest may simply be a muscle pain, or conversely may be as deadly as a heart attack.
After diagnosis comes the required treatment or operation. Intense pain from appendicitis, for example, is easily treated with an operation. Pain from a heart attack, which causes pain in the left part of the chest, left shoulder and left arm, must be dealt with very seriously under the supervision of a cardiologist.
The first measure to be taken in case of a headache, backache, or neck ache is to avoid the position or movement that causes the pain. Consider the following analogy: the wheels of your car are not properly aligned. One side of the tire is worn due to friction, and thus blows out or loses traction. This result is inevitable, unless one corrects the misalignment leading to friction and wear. The damage cannot be prevented by putting on ear plugs and pretending it doesn’t exist.
If your neck has an ache, you should consult a physician to diagnose the cause. The pain may be related to how you use your pillow; so you can get rid of the pain by simply adjusting the pillow based on your preferred sleeping position, or you may need to buy a new pillow. The pain may also be caused by keeping the head in the same direction for prolonged periods to watch TV or looking into the monitor, we may just need to do some simple physical exercise and sit up right. Desk jobs and extended cell phone use are primary causes of neck aches. Resorting to painkillers immediately is not the right thing to do in such cases. A drug may ease the pain temporarily, but as in the car analogy, we may end up with a flat tire. Painkillers do not resolve the injury to the neck and what is worse, despite the intensifying pain you may not be aware of the body’s warnings, and finally have a serious case of hernia that may require an operation that runs the risk for death or paralysis.
The most important cause of backache is a vicious circle of inactivity and obesity. If a person does not exercise, they will put on weight and as one puts on weight they cannot exercise. Carelessness when picking up something is one of the most common causes of backaches. Obesity is one of the most common causes of herniated disc. Obesity prevents doing exercise; back muscles weaken as one does not exercise, and this leads to a herniated disc. If we do not take necessary care about these and look to drugs for treatment, we may not feel the pain, but the injury and hernia continue to exist. The risk is much lower among those who observe meditation and other religious practices that include physical activity like bowing, prostrating, sitting and standing upright. Eating little and leaving the table before being full are among many prophetic advices that are useful for our health.
The same is true for knee injuries such as meniscus tears and ligament sprains. Our knees are some of our most precious assets. We should be careful about our knees when standing up from a squat or getting on or off a car so that they will not slip sideways. Dangerous, rigorous exercises or movements that may harm the bones and cartilage in the knees, such as lifting heavy weights and jumping off a height, should be avoided, especially after a certain age. Sitting crossed-legged or squatting for long periods may stretch cruciate ligaments too much, and a slight move may cause their rupture.
One of the most common types of headaches is stress-related headaches. In these headaches the muscles in the head become tense, causing the vessels to contract and leaving tissues without oxygen. If we learn how to deal with stress, we can ease the headache and become happier. We should fight stress consciously and actively. We can overcome headaches not by sitting idly but by mental preparation and activity targeting stress.
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Cupping and other complementary treatments can be tried before medication. Performing regular prayers may help relieve the aches in the head, neck, and knees, because these prayers reduce stress and are a form of exercise. Washing yourself as a part of prayers includes exercise, cleaning, and getting rid of the stress-related static electricity through water. Cleaning the top of the head, massaging the ears inside out, and washing the face and feet are known to reduce stress and discharge static electricity.
Endorphins, a group of hormones secreted within the brain, are in fact given the task of acting as painkillers in our body. They are thousands of times more powerful than morphine and help us fight headaches. Most of the ache, especially in chronic pains, is eliminated by the “pain-control systems” which were installed in our brains; what we feel as pain is in fact whatever remains after this elimination. Were it not for this mechanism, which is a sign of great compassion, life would be insufferable because of pains.