Many years ago I was plagued with debilitating headaches associated with a number of seemingly unrelated activities that included cooking for company and sewing drapes for the house. I thought I might be allergic to natural gas or certain fabrics until one day I realized that I tensed my facial muscles when I concentrated intently on a project.
The cure was surprisingly simple: I became aware of how my body was reacting and changed it through self-induced behavior modification. I consciously relaxed my muscles whenever I focused on a task that could precipitate a tension-induced headache.
Fast-forward about five decades: Now it was my back that ached when I hurriedly cooked even a simple meal. And once again, after months of pain, I realized that I was transferring stress to the muscles of my back and had to learn to relax them, and to allow more time to complete a project to mitigate the stress. Happy to report, I recently prepared dinner for eight with nary a pain.
I don’t mean to suggest that every ache and pain can be cured by self-awareness and changing one’s behavior. But recent research has demonstrated that the mind – along with other nonpharmacological remedies — can be powerful medicine to relieve many kinds of chronic or recurrent pains, especially low back pain.
As Dr. James Campbell, a neurosurgeon and pain specialist, put it, “The best treatment for pain is right under our noses.” He suggests not “catastrophizing” – not assuming that the pain represents something disastrous that keeps you from leading the life you’ve chosen.
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