back hurts," "I have pain down my leg," "I'm
here to stop hurting." These are comments physical therapists
regularly hear from patients. Our job, then, is to get to a more
detailed description of the symptoms. Your PT will clarify what
you mean by "pain" by asking questions to determine if
it is aching, throbbing, sharp, shooting, tingling, stinging, dull,
etc. However, how often are patients taught and provided descriptions
of sensations that are pleasant?
often reduce their physical experience down to GOOD or BAD. Sometimes
it's STRONG or WEAK, or HEALTHY and UNHEALTHY. Yet there are many
other distinctions that can be made for physical sensations. When
experiences are reduced to good vs. bad, the brain's capacity
to fully examine the experience is limited. Learning a new language
for sensations can provide more positive options for a sense of
a person experiences him or herself is not "black and white."
Yet, when one is experiencing pain, it is easy to forget the myriad
of other physical sensations that are also present at the time.
People easily get tunnel-visioned around pain, thus limiting the
brain's capacity to direct attention beyond the pain. For my patients
who experience chronic pain, or long-lasting symptoms, I often
refer to this as the "brain/pain super highway." If
the only time a person experiences sensation is when there is
a signal of pain, the nervous system develops a well-routed path
to continue to feel, remember, recall, and even reprieve the experience
of pain. My hope is to teach the language of sensation for the
rest of the body and facilitate the development of the "scenic"
routes as alternatives.
can be guided into feeling supportive and pleasant sensations
throughout their bodies, so the region of pain is just one of
the rest-stops among many they can chose to experience. When pain
triggers a physiological fight/flight response, patients can learn
to redirect their attention to the breath in their abdomen. For
back and neck pain, learning to adjust ones posture from their
pelvis can be an excellent way to utilize and engage more accurate
support for healthy posture without the overexertion of ones back
muscles. By bringing attention to a sense of a flexible spine
and ribs, the mechanics of the legs and feet can change to alter
the stressors that may be contributing to foot, knee or hip pain.
are numerous ways to describe physical sensations, and I have
provided a partial list below.
to switch out of the dominant thoughts of pain or tension, which
contribute to the fight/flight triggers in the brain, you can
practice shifting attention to pleasant or neutral sensations
throughout the rest of your body. This conscious effort can have
huge benefits. Not only can you develop a sense of support for
the areas that are painful, but by bringing your attention into
your body, you shift out of your repetitive thinking brain, away
from the brain-pain super highway, and create moments of relaxation
that can benefit your life in so many ways: sleep, memory, and
energy, just to name a few.
to pay attention to physical sensations is useful whether or not
you are in pain. Try practicing the discovery of new sensations
in your body everyday, and see if you don't begin to enjoy living
in your body in a new way!