Rewiring Our Brains to Handle Pain

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Pain is tough and no one likes to be in pain. But medication does not have to be the only choice of treatment.

Bridget Shears, director of Intermountain’s pain management clinical services, spoke on KSL’s Healthy Mind Matters radio program that there is a way to retrain how our minds deal with pain.

Opioids Effects On Our Brains 

Chronic Pain and Opioids

“What we have to do is make sure people understand really how opioids work, their effect on your brain, and as well as how they affect your pain receptors in your body,” said Shears.

While the temporary relief can help with major pain, long-term use has shown to be more problematic then therapeutic.

“Long-term they just don’t have a positive impact. They are probably more problematic and can lead patients to feeling more pain as a result of continued use,” Shears added.

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Retraining Your Brain to Manage Chronic Pain

Opioids don’t have to be, and shouldn’t be, the go-to for pain management. But changing the way we think about opioids has a lot to do with how our brains handle pain.

“There’s a lot of scientific evidence behind the use of being present through meditation and mindfulness, to help retrain your brain around how you perceive your pain” Shears said. “It doesn’t mean your pain will go away completely.”

It helps in those times where you experience pain and think that medications is your only relief.

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Pain Management and the Role of Physical Activity

It’s a counter-intuitive thought. If you are suffering from pain, try not to rest too long as moving is great medicine.

“It doesn’t have to be where you lift a lot of heavy weights or do a lot of high-impact cardio – we want you to continue to move. So too much rest can actually be a bad thing,” Shears said.

You can begin with daily walks. Then build from there as you progress in your activity level. Yoga and Tai Chi can also be an important assistance. Because it also has a meditation aspect as well as getting the body to move and also relax.

“There are varying levels of yoga and it’s really to stretch the muscles and it’s also very low impact on your joints,” Shears said. “There is also the breathing involved in yoga that can be very beneficial.” 

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Chronic Pain Management Leads to a More Productive Life

Having a quality of life while dealing with pain is possible without the use of opioids. It happens every day.

“One of the things that we don’t realize is that we have millions of people who deal with chronic pain. But not everyone is using opioids to relieve that pain and live a good quality life,” Shears said.

People can also be over-prescribed from opioids long-term. In that situation, pain management clinics can help ween someone down to an acceptable dose. The main step is to changing your relationship with opioid medications or finding the right balance for you begins with an open conversation with your provider.

“Have a conversation with your healthcare provider and really talking about the risks are of staying on the opioids. Particularly if they are not helping you be more functional in your day to day living,” Shears said.

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For more help advice, visit Healthy Mind Matters podcast site.