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Pain-Free Pathways – Essential Insights For Your Journey To Overcoming Chronic Pain

Written by: Mia Khalil, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

Executive Contributor Mia Khalil

Embarking on the journey to overcome chronic pain is not just a pursuit of relief; it's a quest for a renewed sense of vitality, a return to a life unburdened by constant discomfort. In the realm of the healing process lies an intricate tapestry of strategies, insights, and empowering revelations that will guide you on your expedition toward reclaiming the life you truly deserve. In this article, I am offering more than a roadmap; I hope that you’ll find a beacon of hope and a source of essential insights that will empower you to regain trust in your body and control over your well-being.

Woman in black walking on the trail

Setting the framework

Before we delve into the subject of treatment and healing, I would like to first set the framework for this conversation. The pain we will be discussing in this article is musculoskeletal chronic pain that has lasted over three months, and that has been blamed on “normative” findings, such as arthritis, disc disease, scoliosis, etc. This excludes conditions that are caused by a well-understood pathological cause, such as a vertebral fracture, malignancy, or infection.

Research is showing that there is currently an overreliance on treatments lacking evidence, some with significant harm risks, for common conditions like back pain. This problem has been detailed in a significant study published in March 2018 in arguably the world’s most prestigious medical journal, The Lancet.

1. A paradigm shift

In the past three years, doctors and scientists have developed a new model for treating such chronic pain conditions, which combines a modern understanding of pain neuroscience with innovative treatments that address the underlying conditions that are causing pain and other associated symptoms. We now have compelling evidence that indicates that most chronic pain can be reduced or eliminated when treated correctly. Treatments are mainly based on education and neural pathway reprocessing – unlearning the habits of pain – and don’t involve medication, rehab, or medical interventions.

“A revolution in understanding the nature of chronic pain is underway, driven by compelling neuroscience. For the layperson, the take-home message is that most chronic pain conditions can be effectively treated using a neuroplasticity approach. – Howard Schubiner MD, FACP

2. What is pain?

Pain is a normal and universal human experience, designed primarily to protect us. As such, pain prevents us from creating further damage to the body, experiencing very difficult emotions, or doing things that we consciously or subconsciously dread. For example, if we’re running and we sprain an ankle, the pain will signal us to stop running, thus preventing further damage to the area. Have you ever experienced a headache when asked to perform chores you don’t want to do, a stomachache right before a difficult exam, or insomnia the night before a stressful meeting or event? Of course, you have – we all have. Yet, we don’t give those symptoms a second thought because we know they will go away. But what happens when pain sticks around for weeks, months, or even years? Well, it is now well understood that what keeps pain around are mainly the fear of the pain, trauma and distress, specific personality traits, and pain catastrophizing.

3. The danger alarm system

Fear, trauma, and catastrophizing play a crucial role in “ringing” the nervous system's danger alarm system, which, in return, sends pain sensations to “protect” us from the danger it’s detecting. If you’re thinking this is a vicious circle, you’re right, because it is! People get stuck in this vicious circle of pain, constantly worrying and fearing the symptoms, which increases the manifestation and the intensity of the symptoms. The way out of this loop is to end the fear cycle by becoming curious about how the pain might be trying to protect us. Physical symptoms offer valuable insight into our subconscious thoughts, feelings, and behaviors if we're only willing to listen. We can use those sensations as a barometer for what might be going on in our lives. Since most of us were not taught to speak or understand the language of pain, a gentle curiosity is required to see through the overwhelming fear.

Finding the right person to help you

1. Profession

Finding a clinician with expert manual therapy and movement skills is nice, but it's not a prerequisite. Many expert manual therapists, bodyworkers, and movement teachers lack the other skills they need to make meaning from pain because they tend to be focused on the wrong variables like fixing bodies.

2. Flexibility and trust

The best approach here is to find someone who has technical competence and a variety of skills that allow for some treatment flexibility. More importantly, consider a practitioner with strong therapeutic alliance skills like active listening, connecting, presence, empathy, and compassion. These relational factors are far more important predictors of your outcome.

3. Hopeful narratives

When we consider that most chronic pain is curable – as we stated at the beginning of this article – it becomes critical to choose a professional who is invested in empowering you with hope, optimism, positivity, and encouragement, and who will help you to overcome doubt and fear. The best professional for you is someone who looks to empower you rather than make you dependent on them. The process of healing from chronic pain often leads to significant benefits, including growth in one's life beyond pain. So, you are best served by frequently reinforcing hopeful narratives.

4. Red flags

It doesn’t matter how impressive your clinician, therapist, or coach’s credentials are if you start hearing language and messages that reinforce danger like your body's damaged, your movement is wrong, your tissues are compromised, you should avoid certain activities, the pain is in your head, or you'll have to learn to manage your symptoms, find another professional to help you.

Also, I encourage you to change practitioners if your current one is doing the same thing repeatedly with temporary or little results, especially if their approach is driven by a fear-based narrative.

Following a blueprint for success

In my experience, we all have the answers and the ability to overcome our symptoms once we understand the process. A practitioner’s role is to help you understand the language of your symptoms and guide you to access your inner wisdom as you decide what the next version of you looks like. Your nervous system knows what it wants and needs better than any practitioner; learning to trust that intuition is important.

Woman in the forest standing on rocks stretch her arms

1. Asking the right questions

Oftentimes, it is more the right question that is going to help you make progress, rather than the right treatment. Understanding what your symptoms are trying to tell you is key to recovery. What is it your brain's trying to protect you from? What is it trying to teach you? What boundary do you need to lay down or reinforce? Healing is then facilitated by a conversation with your brain and your nervous system, rather than by applying bodywork to fix your body.

2. Empowering bodywork

First, you must remember that bodywork does not fix your body. If you would like to add that modality to your treatment you certainly can, if you start with a mindset centered around movement and touch as a strategy to converse with your brain and nervous system.

While receiving body-based treatments and moving in new ways, actively and explicitly reassure yourself that your body is safe. The goal of such treatments is to feed your brain novel and safety-inducing information about your body and the world around you. This is what your brain is craving, even if it doesn't always feel that way. Just like your brain needs information from your eyes to see clearly and from your ears to hear clearly, think of your body as a giant sensory organ whose job is to receive touch and movement to reduce metaphorical blurriness and clarify the world around you.

3. Combining brain and somatic approaches

I have found that combining top-down neural pathway reprocessing and bottom-up movement is the best strategy for the healing journey. Bodywork and movement are key ingredients – when used right – in reducing fear and building trust in the body. While I acknowledge the challenge this creates for practitioners and people in pain, in the sense that we don't want to send the wrong message that there's something wrong with the body, we also don't want to miss the opportunity to leverage an important bottom-up somatic strategy that can change the nervous system in profound ways.

4. Embracing movement

It is important to highlight the distinction between movement and exercise. Exercise is goal-oriented, structured, and intimidating to many because of how it ties to should and shouldn’t, pressure, urgency, and often to past injuries or hurts. Movement, on the other hand, is a requisite to life and is something I encourage people to self-define and discover based on their inherent need for wonder, awe, joy, play, fun, connection with others, and nature. While exercising is not necessary, movement is a must!

5. Leaning into pain

I’d like to remind you that you won't get pain-free by avoiding pain, and while you don't always need bodywork to unlearn pain, I'd argue that you need to move. Even though moving often hurts at first, moving despite some pain is part of the healing process. When you start to challenge your triggers and move into graded exposure, the bodywork or movement you choose can be uncomfortable, intimidating, and even painful sometimes. Moving into pain is an active ingredient in reducing the sensitivity of the brain and nervous system to the environment, including touch. You and your practitioner should consistently sprinkle active reassurance into the process, despite some discomfort and fear throughout your treatment.

6. Working with sensations

It is normal for us humans to avoid painful or uncomfortable sensations and to wish them gone. However, this exact reaction is what creates deeper neural pathways and maintains the flow and intensity of those sensations. Use the sensations that arise during movement and bodywork as an opportunity rather than a threat. All physical sensations are connected to emotions, and all our emotions are connected back to physical sensations. So, lean into those sensations and get curious to understand what's coming up for you. Perhaps the sensation that’s arising leads to a sticky myth about your body that needs busting, or maybe it connects to a past thought, feeling, or behavior that adds clarity to a pattern you hadn't noticed before.

7. Visualizing and imagining

My first piece of advice is to focus on – and visualize – what you want rather than what you don't want from your body. Predict a positive experience and inundate your brain with safety messages. Whether you're lying face down receiving a massage or needles, face up receiving energy work, or you're squatting, starting to lift again, or simply working towards sitting or standing for longer periods, remember that the brain is always anticipating and predicting what's going to happen before you even start.

If it's in the habit of predicting danger – and thus pain – you'll benefit greatly from a positive visualization to interrupt that unconscious anticipation. Closing your eyes and seeing yourself in your favorite, safe, and calm place doing the activity you want creates a new healthy neural pathway to start replacing the old one. You can also remember a time or a place when you did a similar activity pain-free and with ease. These are powerful tools to interrupt any automatic response that's become a learned habit.

Similarly, imagine how you want your brain and body to evolve as you move or receive bodywork. The act of imagining changes the chemistry in your nervous system and thus your body's tissues. Get creative by trying to breathe softness into your muscles, imagine your tension melting like snow in the sun, and your muscles coming back online and getting power. See yourself floating thoughtlessly on warm blue water, or simply attend to and track the feeling of the touch you're receiving, noticing its nature, and actively reassuring yourself as you go.

8. Assigning meaning

When you tune in to the sensations in your body, you might find that there's an emotion arising that connects to something stressful going on in your life. Be mindful of not creating meaning around it that connects to emotional pain, like a bad relationship, a stressful job, a past traumatic experience, a big life change, grief, or feelings of being overwhelmed.

You can see how your relationship with your practitioner is paramount here because you can then collaborate to understand how the physical sensations are connected to this deeper meaning in your life. Allowing the physical sensations that arise through bodywork and movement as a path leading to your thoughts, behaviors, and emotions can help you make important connections to your subconscious mind that you otherwise wouldn't have access to in this way.

Healing from chronic pain is a dynamic journey, unique to each individual. Armed with essential insights, resilience, and a commitment to self-care, you now possess the tools to navigate this transformative process. Embrace the power of a multidimensional approach, incorporating physical, emotional, and lifestyle changes. Be patient with yourself, celebrate small victories, and seek support from the right network of professionals and loved ones on your path. Your journey is a testament to your strength, and as you continue forward, may each step bring you closer to a life of comfort, vitality, and lasting well-being. The road may be challenging, but your destination is a pain-free future filled with possibilities.

I hope you feel empowered to hold your body and your mind with equal regard as you navigate your healing journey.

How I can help you

Since I've achieved full recovery from chronic pain, I have become passionate about helping people get the same awesome results. I’ve helped many chronic pain sufferers take ownership of their healing journey, make empowered decisions, and completely transform their reality.

I use a unique heart-centered coaching approach that reflects not only my personal experience of healing but also includes my training in multiple modalities, such as practical neuroplasticity and the emerging mind-body revolution in chronic pain treatment, Pain Reprocessing Therapy (PRT).

Somatic Tracking, Emotional Awareness and Expression Therapy (EAET), Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), Hypnosis, Mental and Emotional Release® (MER)Therapy, Breakthrough Therapy, Integrative Coaching, and nutrition. You can learn about my credentials here.

Whether your recovery takes two days or two years, the most important thing to keep in mind is to never let yourself down and to keep looking for answers. If you’re curious about how the Mind-Body approach can help you on your journey, book a call with me using this form.

The Mind-Body Syndrome is common, real, and reversible. Emerging neuroscience recognizes the power of the brain to determine our internal experiences, creating a paradigm shift in how we think about pain, insomnia, fatigue, anxiety, and depression. It challenges many current treatments and offers the potential for low-cost, patient-centered treatments for ailments that are epidemic in our society. Tens of thousands of people are healing with the Mind-Mody approach – you can too!

Follow me on Facebook, LinkedIn, and visit my website for more info!

Mia Khalil Brainz Magazine

Mia Khalil, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Mia is a certified Integrative Neuro-linguistic programming Coach specializing in chronic pain recovery. After overcoming her debilitating chronic pain through the Mind-Body approach, she became passionate about helping others achieve similar results. This led her to study practical neuroplasticity and the emerging mind-body revolution in chronic pain treatment, Mental and Emotional Release® Therapy, Breakthrough Therapy, Hypnosis, and other therapeutic modalities. Mia founded her own holistic coaching practice to help people reclaim their power, overcome their limitations, eliminate pain, and live a life of freedom, joy, health, and well-being. Her mission: Create a free world.



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