The secret message of pain
August 24th 2015, 13:03
We are a society gripped by constant pain of one sort or another-and life appears to be getting more painful by the year. In the UK alone, according to government statistics, at least a third of all households-representing some eight million of us-have one or more members suffering from moderate-to-severe persistent pain of some variety. This is two to three times more than the number of such sufferers in the 1970s.
Matters are even worse in the US. According to the American Pain Foundation, more than 26 million Americans ages 20 to 64 experience frequent back pain alone. Almost a third of all adults aged 65 or over report some variety of knee pain, and more than one-sixth report having hip pain or stiffness. Staggeringly, some 25 million cases of pain have to do with migraine, or lower facial pain or jaw pain such as a temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder.
Despite the fact that pain is the biggest 'illness' of our times-vastly overtaking cancer, diabetes or any of the other degenerative diseases in incidence-medicine's only answer is to use chemicals to block or suppress pain signals or inflammation in the nerves, brain or muscles. Millions of patients survive on years of taking over-the-counter medications like paracetamol, aspirin and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatories, despite warnings against their long-term use.
It's now becoming obvious, though, that the pills just don't work. Most nursing-home patients remain in moderate or severe pain despite the universal use of a plethora of painkilling medications. And most of the rest of us report that, most of the time, our pain is beyond the reach of most drugs.
This is not surprising, given what we're now learning about how the body works. The rationale for pharmaceutical medicines rests on the premise that chemical processes in the body progress in a linear and orderly fashion, so that a drug can precisely target tab A to pop it nicely into slot B.
However, we're now beginning to realize that chemical reactions in the body are distinctly not linear, but chaotic. As frontier biologist Bruce Lipton observed in his seminal book The Biology of Belief, interactions between a small group of cellular proteins in fruit-fly cells involved in the synthesis and metabolism of RNA molecules make up an impossibly complicated web of interconnectedness that can never be reduced to the simple linear progression of cause and effect.
Recently, scientists have theorized that the more than 6,000 proteins in the human body have a network of more than 70,000 physical interactions. Proteins with certain physiological functions, such as gender determination, also influence proteins that have an entirely different job, such as RNA synthesis. Trying to tease apart any protein's sole job in any genuine sense becomes virtually impossible.
Furthermore, we are now beginning to recognize that Nature is economical with her building blocks: the same proteins or signals may be used in entirely different organs or tissues of the body for completely different functions.
Pain, we are learning, is not merely symptomatic of mechanical parts breaking down, but relates to a complex interaction between mind and body. New theories show that pain results not only from mechanical effects on nerves, but also from what is referred to as 'biochemical irritation', which can come from any physical, mental or emotional cause. New evidence, for instance, shows that pain is often the side-effect of a simple lack of vitamin D-which may be why the British, living as they do in a sunshine-poor country, have a disproportionately high incidence of pain.
As our cover story demonstrates, one of the major causes of persistent pain is emotional stress. A number of maverick practitioners like the now retired Dr John Sarno, a clinical rehabilitative expert formerly at the New York University School of Medicine, reckons that virtually all back problems are caused by unresolved emotional stress, and some 85 per cent of his patients resolve their back pain by achieving closure of their emotional issues.
This means that many alternative forms of new medicine can treat pain by targeting mental and emotional issues. Practitioners of these new modalities recognize that pain can be a symptom of too little or too much of something our body needs, but also of something unresolved in our emotional past. But most significantly, as tapping pioneer Nick Ortner has discovered (see our Cover Story, page xx), addressing emotional issues through one of the new energy-medicine techniques can accomplish the seemingly impossible: years of intractable pain can vanish in a matter of minutes.
Clearly, it's time that we stop trying to just temporarily turn off pain and, instead, listen harder to what it's trying to tell us.