At some point in our lives we have all experienced pain.

Pain is simply our body’s way of expressing itself. Without it, how would we know something is wrong? Rather than be afraid of pain, respect it and understand what it is trying to tell you. If you ignore these important messages and continue the activities that aggravate your symptoms, then you aren’t giving your body a chance to heal. The body has the ability to heal on its own, but it also needs to be given the chance to do so.

Every day I work with patients who have some form of pain limiting their function, preventing them from doing what they love to do most. They report that their pain used to go away in a couple of days, but THIS time it didn’t. Whether they have had weeks of discomfort, or months of continuing pain, I explain to them that the body can only take so much until it hits a breaking point—triggering a cascade of reactions.

Sometimes we forget the myriad stresses and strains we have placed on our bodies throughout our lifetime—from the falls we had when we were kids, to the car accident we were in at twenty-five, to the knee replacement at sixty-five. Our bodies continue to change and, for many, degrade with every bump, bruise, and injury. If you do experience painful nagging symptoms that prevent you from completing your daily activities—whether they are simple tasks, like getting dressed in the morning or driving to work, to more complex activities like weekend soccer or yoga—then really listen to what your body is telling you.

It’s time to stop taking your body for granted, and make time to take care of yourself. These important painful messages your body sends down the wire don’t have to stick around. Listening, rather than ignoring, the pain when it first hits is one of the most important things you can do to keep your body a well-oiled machine for the long haul. I know this is easier said than done, so start small. Here are a few simple daily practices that can help each and every one of us.

  1. When at work, or sitting down for long periods of time, give yourself a five-minute stretch break every hour.
  2. No matter how busy you may be, find the time at some point in your day to take a brisk ten-minute walk.
  3. Several times throughout your day, take deep diaphragmatic breaths: relax, as you breath in, slowly let your stomach rise and your rib cage expand three-dimensionally. Think of your lungs as a barrel, they should expand from the front, sides, and back as you breathe, thus allowing them to fill evenly with air. Then, slowly exhale through your mouth. The power of breath is not only relaxing, but it enhances blood flow throughout your body, improving overall circulation and healing.
  4. When you are injured or experience pain, it’s important to get a full night’s rest. Your body accelerates healing while asleep.
  5. Contrary to popular belief, do not try to soothe your pain with heat. However, ice is a truly effective natural anti-inflammatory and pain reliever that has been proven to help. Several times per day, apply ice to your area of pain for ten to fifteen minutes at a time. Though many think heat is the right choice because it feels good, the reality is just the opposite. It can actually cause more inflammation, thus increasing the level of discomfort. It is only recommended to use heat for stiffness and can be useful in the morning to loosen muscles and joints, but should not be used in response to pain. You’ll be far better off with the ice.

If you are experiencing any kind of recurring pain, it can be very beneficial to seek out an experienced medical professional for some expert advice on your individual situation. In many cases physical therapy can help diminish your pain and restore your optimal level of function, getting you back to a vibrant life, free of discomfort!

Erin Carr, DPT, is an integrative physical therapist at The Akasha Center for Integrative Medicine. She works with individuals of all ages and variety of conditions using a multi-faceted treatment approach with the goal of diminishing pain and restoring optimal function. You can also visit Erin’s website HERE.

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