by Chelsea Henry

Pain can modify the way the nervous system works, making the body more sensitive to less stimulation, in a process called Central Sensitization. This happens mostly through changes in the brain and spinal cord, and means that little things hurt worse than they should, and that it takes longer for the pain to fade. We found this wonderful article, Central Sensitization in Chronic Pain by Paul Ingraham, which is a jargon-to-English translation of rock star pain researcher Clifford Woolf’s published paper.

As explained in the article, it is hard to know when a person is feeling more pain than they should, because we do not yet have a test we can run to show how much pain someone is feeling. That means that we only have our own experiences to go by, and without a defined “normal”, it is easy to not know that we are in more pain than we should be.

Central Sensitization is very well-documented and easy to create in lab settings. It also shows up so often as a complication of painful problems that some researchers think it might be a common denominator. It could be what puts the “chronic” in chronic pain.

Though we know that Central Sensitization exists, we do not yet know why it happens to some people and not others, and we do not have a good way to diagnose it. It could be a part of any case of chronic pain, but it is not clear how to separate the pain that comes from a problem in the tissue from the pain that comes from Central Sensitization.

When a person has Central Sensitization, it basically means they have a hyper-active warning system and the body is no longer giving useful, sensible pain signals. On a fundamental level, pain is about your brain’s assessment of safety: unsafe things hurt. Therefore we can treat Central Sensitization by being kind to our central nervous system. We can decrease stress and increase a feeling of safety and ease. Yoga, yoga therapy, massage, meditation, and mindfulness can all help create the felt experience of wellness the body needs in order to start turning off the alarms. Feeling safe and good, and having therapeutic experiences that are pleasant, easy, and reassuring, can go a long way in calming the nervous system and bringing the body back out of excessive pain.

by Chelsea Henry

Dr. Tracy Jackson spoke at TEDx Nashville about “The Hardest Pill to Swallow”, regarding chronic pain. We at HaLe’ feel inspired, because we see the evidence of the effectiveness of our holistic approach on the pain levels of our clients and students every day.

Chronic pain steals your mojo on every level. It is the #1 presenting complaint to doctors and top reason people are out of work, and yet US outcomes and treatment of chronic pain are among the worst in the developed world. We have a limited and flawed understanding of chronic pain, and we don’t want to accept what we do know.
Pain is a perception, and how do you prove it to doctors who are trained to diagnose and treat physical symptoms in the body? People with chronic pain go to 10 min doctor visits and present their case so that the doctor perceives their perception of their pain correctly. The worst that can happen is if the doctor thinks it is all in your head. But ALL pain is literally all in your head!

Think about a kid who doesn’t want to go to school because there is a test, or a monster under the bed. They get a tummy ache. They get a physical symptom based on an emotional issue. As adults, we deny that pain from mental stress manifests as pain in the body. But we cannot feel pain without a functioning brain. Chronic pain causes central sensitization, and our mood, sleep, and pain pathways all overlap. It all feels like pain in the body.

Americans are prescribed enough opioid pain pills for every person to take 3 pills a day for 42 days every year. The #1 cause of accidental death in the US is opioid overdose, which is more than car accidents. And yet no scientific study shows that opioids are effective for chronic pain after 6 months, and after that they start to change the body so that it feels more pain. They also mess with mood, sleep, immune function and sexual function. Chronic pain is not about a lack of pain pills. We are missing something.

Everything is connected in the body. You have to move regularly if you have chronic pain, it is the cornerstone of all effective treatment. It is significantly even more effective if that movement incorporates breathing and mindfulness techniques, like yoga. Some doctors ask how can that work if surgery and oxycontin don’t, but it has been proven to drastically reduce the pain experience by changing the way we think, breathe, and move. Harvard neuroscientists have shown that we can change the very structure of our brains and can reverse the changes caused by chronic pain by using the breath.

Pills and procedures do work for some people, but if they don’t work for you, you have to accept it and do something different. We can admit that stress and lifestyle choices contribute to and cause chronic pain at any age. We can hold ourselves accountable to seek out the longer, more durable path to real relief. We can advocate for more holistic functional rehabilitation resources (which have been thoroughly proven to work!) available to all of us, and teach that we can be active participants in our own healing and our own lives. The hardest pill to swallow is that there is no quick fix to chronic pain. But there is a fix!

Watch Dr. Tracy Jackson at TEDx Nashville

by Barbara Y.

For my entire life, I’ve been somewhat clumsy. I tripped over things, ran into corners and fell often. As a kid, this wasn’t so bad but as an adult it became more problematic. As a result, I’ve needed a good bit of bodywork, having done various types of massage with many different therapists for over 20 years.  I always thought it was just me, something in my personality that made me prone to falling. However, all this changed when I had the great fortune to meet Will Ravenel at HaLe’.

Not only has Will, through Rolf Therapy and Myofascial Release, balanced the structure of my body so I’m more grounded with better posture, I haven’t had a bad fall since working with him (knock on wood). Rolf Therapy was something I’d always heard about with curiosity but kept putting off. I’m forever grateful to Janice Cathey for suggesting this form of bodywork, as it’s been perfect for me. I’ve heard others talk about their Rolf therapists with mixed reviews. I have only glowing praise for Will. He is not only extremely knowledgeable about the human body, he’s a kind and generous person. He takes time to explain the work, giving exercises and advice on maintaining good posture. Will has helped me understand how integrated we are physiologically and how to maintain a balanced and grounded way of moving through the world.

The lymph system is both a producer of materials that help us heal and a septic system, and so supporting its function through lymphatic massage can speed our recovery from surgery. Lymphatic massage assists the body in moving inflammatory components back out of the system and it gooses our immune system function to help the healing process.

There is a cascade of events that allows us to heal. Part of that process is the inflammatory response, which is necessary for healing to happen when we disrupt the body through surgery. Inflammation also means there will be swelling localized to the surgical area, which slows the lymph system’s ability to do its job of moving wastes out and healthy components in. After surgery, it is also the lymph system that helps the body process all the materials that need to be moved out, including excess fluids given during surgery.

Lymphatic massage assists the function of the lymph system through all these processes. It also stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which is especially good in healing times because it allows our bodies to really rest in order to heal efficiently and effectively. This also has an analgesic effect because the parasympathetic nervous system calms our perception of pain. There is a whole interplay of physiological functions that lymphatic work supports, helping to heal from surgery, reduce post surgical pain and swelling, and speed return to function. It also helps avoid infection because it helps keep the immune system more fully functional.

Receiving lymphatic massage feels gentle and rhythmic, helping us to breathe more deeply and rest more fully, and is safer for tissues that are still healing after surgery. Even clients who have always thought they need deep and vigorous massage are surprised at how effective and soothing lymphatic massage is, with its relatively light touch. It is both satisfying and plenty deep enough to do profound work in supporting the healing process.

The psoas (pronounced so-az) is the one muscle that attaches the upper body to the lower body. It allows locomotion by allowing you to lift your legs to actually walk. It is the filet mignon of the body, the tenderloin, and is actually very delicate. It needs to be treated with sensitivity, so that it becomes juicy and full and soft. When it is juicy, you walk like a dancer, with legs that just swing from your body.

It is also the emotional core of the body, holding massive amounts of emotional information. It is where we hold birth and childhood trauma, or any other trauma, because it is directly a part of our flight or fight response. This makes sense because you are either running or curling into a ball, which are both primarily psoas reactions. When you’ve been traumatized and just want to curl up, that is the psoas acting as a protector, and when you release that, you can stand up straight, face the world, and approach it with ease.  It can also hold good stuff if you create that. A relaxed and juicy psoas leads to full body orgasms that flow through your whole body.

One of the best things you can do for your psoas is Constructive Rest Pose, where you lie on your back with your knees bent and feet parallel to each other at the width of your hip sockets, about 12-16″ away from your buttocks. You can also put your feet up on a chair. This pose allows the psoas to drop and lengthen. A fetal curl also allows it to soften and relax. These simple relaxations are so important. They not only change the body physically, but you can feel yourself moving more deeply into the floor. Your sympathetic nervous system gets a break and the body gets soft, bringing us a treasure trove for the body, mind, and spirit.

You can also work with balls to soften and hydrate the feet, standing up and pressing and releasing the foot onto a ball. This hydrates the tissues all the way up to the psoas, which is why we do a lot of it in class.

The psoas is fascinating because everything lands there, all your emotional issues, everything, and it works best when it is soft and relaxed. We can play with it, approaching it with a childlike curiosity of how things move. And when the psoas is juicy, we will all walk like dancers, with an easy flow.