Learn to breathe diaphragmatically – Place a hand over your upper abdomen.
- Push it OUT as you inhale
- Let in move IN as you exhale
- Let your chest, shoulder, neck, and back relax as you breathe
- Only on a very deep breath should these parts move in the breath
Relaxing/breathing throughout your day may make relaxing at bedtime easier. If you link taking one deep breath to a re-occurring work event like a telephone ringing, a special key-stroke or function of your computer program, or checking the time (“clock watching”), you could remember to take these slow deep breaths throughout your work schedule and keep yourself from letting the tensions build to painful or distracting levels. The secret is to check in with your body in the present moment, relax your major muscles, and slow and deepen your breath. This simple exercise can have miraculous results.
Other breathing techniques involve a short series of deep slow breaths, where you count as you breathe. Try counting slowly 1 — 4 as you inhale, pause and hold your breath as you count 1 — 4, and then release slowly, but completely, as you count 1 — 8. After four of these breaths, you will be breathing better and more in control of your body’s pattern of holding tension. This can help teach you how to control your chronic pain complaints.
Relaxation of the major muscle groups is very helpful for rest and sleep enhancement (good sleep is necessary to manage pain). Remember, the jaw and neck/shoulders are often the areas of the body that are tight and can distract you from falling asleep and add to your pain. These are also the most difficult parts of the body for most people to learn to relax. It takes time!
Relaxation is easier in a quiet comfortable space. You may want to be warm, but not too warm for a restful sleep. If you have a lot on your mind, you may want to write out a list and prioritize this list so you can begin to work on these items in the morning. (At the very least, you do not have to work at remembering all the details.
Specifics of relaxation:
Muscle Contraction Headaches:
Muscle contraction headaches can develop from muscle tension in the Jaw (TMJ), spreading to the sides of the head or to the forehead. Headaches can also develop from tension coming up from the neck and shoulders. This can create headaches at the back of head or at the base of the skull. This neck/shoulder tension can be related to improper head position (posture) or inappropriate shoulder breathing.
Tension held in the muscles of the jaw around the Tempro-mandibular Joint (TMJ) is the cause of headaches and dental pain. Jaw and head position can affect this pain. Relaxation of this tension is essential and yet surprisingly can take a lot of time and practice. Use your regular breathing “check ins.”
Neck pain or tightness is very common. We have expressions like “Pain in the Neck” when we describe a difficult person or activity because this is where we can habitually store our tension. The neck is a relatively poorly designed structure so it can be injured fairly easily over time (and abuse.) People will psychologically “guard” themselves in stressful situations by tightening their neck and shoulders to brace against trauma or stressors. Being aware and learning to “let go” is very helpful for controlling pain.
Low back pain:
Is very common and extremely painful. The low back is not a well designed structure and so can be injured. The soft-tissue injuries in this area of the body are often overlooked but can contribute to the cause or increased intensity of the pain. Look for muscle tension in back of the upper legs to create tension and pain in the lower back. Lower back pain can be related to improper head position (posture) or even inappropriate shoulder breathing.
- Regular exercise, during the day, can help handle physical stresses that build in your body. Exercise can also help to fatigue you so you will be more ready for sleeping.
- There are many exercises to strengthen and stretch you out, that can be learned from our physical therapists, trained physicians or chiropractors. These can help you with range of motion, posture, strengthening weakened muscle groups, and release of stored muscle tension.
- Eat regular meals.
- Low fat and complex carbohydrates are better than fast foods with lots of sugar.
- AVOID CAFFEINE and other stimulants. Caffeine is found in coffee, black teas, cola drinks, chocolate, some over-the-counter pain medications, and other foods/drugs. Caffeine can intensify your stress/anxiety and your pain. Consuming caffeine is like trying to put a fire out by throwing gasoline on it.
- Read labels. Eating as closely as you can to natural foods (lots of: fruits, vegetables, whole grains, etc.) will benefit anyone.
5. Emotional Discharge
For many people suffering from chronic pain, levels of frustration, anger, resentment, anxiety, and depression will grow! These emotions are a normal by-product of coping with injury and pain. An appropriate and supportive way of discharging this potentially damaging emotional energy would be very helpful. Our therapists may be able to help you vent your frustration. Getting this support from family and friends can be useful but may wear thin over time. You may need to search out the appropriate groups or individuals (professionals) that are equipped to help you handle your frustrations.
Communication tools can help you to vent your emotions appropriately and can save you wear and tear on your injured systems. This can be an extremely important key to managing your chronic pain.
The bottom line:
Please take good care of yourself! Be a positive role-model for your family, friends or co-workers. Remember, with time and practice you can change your habitual response patterns and you can GET BACK in CONTROL of your body and your life.