Hi again! Throughout the month of February, I’ve been sharing information about Chronic Pain. Today I’m going to tell you about three ways in which you can use relaxation to manage your pain. One of the hard aspects of dealing with chronic pain is that the pain you have in one area may feel like it is spreading to other areas of your body. While part of this spreading may be due to medical aspects of your pain, it may also be due to general muscle tension in your body. If you think about it, when one area of your body is in pain your body naturally tenses up in other areas. Multiply this by your waking hours and most of the day your body is tense AND in chronic pain. One way to lower the tension in your body, and thus lower your overall pain sensation, is to regularly practice relaxation skills.
Now, when I talk about relaxation in this article I’m not talking about laying on the couch and watching TV or having a drink; I’m talking about relaxation strategies that have a direct impact on the body’s physiological functioning and pain signals. Three types of relaxation have been found to have a direct impact on the body are diaphragmatic breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and visual imagery.
- Diaphragmatic Breathing. Sometimes people also call this “belly breathing.” In this type of breathing it’s best to practice standing up or sitting upright with both feet on the floor. Put one hand on your chest and the other hand on your belly. Try to take a deep breath through your nose; if you can’t breathe through your nose then you can breathe through your mouth. So take a deep breath and see if you can breathe through your abdomen/belly area. Imagine that you have a balloon in your belly and with each breath you are trying to inflate the balloon. When you are doing this correctly you should see the hand on your belly move first, and more than, the hand on your chest. Inhale for 3-4 seconds (or whatever length of time in comfortable for you), hold the breath for 1-2 seconds, and then slowly exhale at the same rate or even a little bit slower. When you exhale imagine that you a blowing air at a candle and the flame is flickering (but you aren’t extinguishing it). Diaphragmatic breathing can feel hard and unnatural because in the beginning you feel like you are pushing your belly out; that’s okay. The more you practice the easier it will get and the more natural it will feel. Try to do this breathing for 3-5 minutes a few times a day.
- Progressive Muscle Relaxation, or PMR, is the second type of relaxation strategy. PMR is a lengthier type of relaxation but very effective when you have overall body tension. The goal of PMR is to help you become aware of when your muscles are tense and learn to relax them before the tension gets too strong. In this practice you learn to scan your body and then focus on each main muscle group…tensing it for a few seconds and then slowly releasing the tension all the while paying close attention to how the muscles feel when they are tense verses relaxed. It’s very important to maintain relaxed breathing during PMR and not hold your breath….so you can also use Diaphragmatic Breathing while you are doing PRM. The main muscle groups you’ll want to focus on are your feet, calves, knees and upper thighs, abdomen, hands, forearms, biceps, shoulders, jaw and facial muscles, forehead, and then the whole body. PMR reminds me of the feeling you get from yoga…. the feeling of staying in a pose and then the relaxation that comes from releasing that pose. Ahhhhhhh …….. J
- Visualization, or visual imagery, is the third type of relaxation that has a direct physiological impact on the body. This is essentially using your imagination and the power of your senses to create a mental image that is healing, safe, and relaxing. This form of relaxation takes a bit more practice to master and good concentration so you can visualize the image or the scene. Some people choose a beach or forest scene. Others might choose a kitchen scene and the smell of something baking. Any mental imagery will work as long as you can hold the scene in your mind. To be most effective you’ll want to incorporate your five senses: imaging what you hear, what you see, what you feel, what you smell and what you might taste.
When you practice any of these types of relaxation make sure you find a spot in which you are comfortable and aren’t distracted. I suggest setting a timer on your phone so you can really sit back and relax without worrying that time is going to slip away from you. After trying each of these types of relaxation out a few times you may find that one is easier than another, or you get better pain control from one versus another. The goal is to find what works for you and to incorporate it daily into your life so that you can manage your pain better.
Keep an eye on my FB site over the next week and I’ll be posting some videos on how to practice each of these techniques.