Are there different kinds of pain? How does pain overlap with our normal feeling and sensory life? Do we always have to chemically block pain, or can we also learn to re-educate the feeling life so that it does not stay stuck in a pain pattern? What happens when we use conventional pain medicines that simultaneously work on both physical and emotional levels—why does this contribute to addiction? These are challenging questions, but they form the foundation for a truly whole-person approach to health and illness.
Over the last six weeks I’ve had the chance to lecture about a fourfold approach to pain to medical and nursing students at the CU medical school, to undergraduate students at Metropolitan State University, and as part of the Academy of Integrative Health and Medicine (AIHM) annual conference in San Diego, one of the largest integrative medicine conferences held each year in the U.S. Each time people were excited to learn about a framework for pain which can thoughtfully approach the full spectrum of illness from body to spirit. The anthroposophic approach described in these talks looks at pain on four levels:
- Physical/Structural—this is what we experience with any injury where there is tissue destruction (like a fractured bone or a burn)
- Functional/Physiologic—instead of tissue destruction, this level relates to imbalanced process, whether that is an upset stomach, a cramp, or a congestion (like an ear infection)
- Sensory/Emotional—pain on this level comes when our feeling life becomes too deeply connected to a part of the body, an accentuation of a normal sensation that has become too strong (whether that is touch, warmth, cold, sound, light, etc.)
- Developmental/Spiritual—this aspect weaves through questions of meaning and self-awareness, of biographical change or disorientation. These can all be important influences in how we navigate pain and change.
Too often, these levels get blurred together, and that is part of why we are facing such a terrible opioid epidemic in the U.S. We get stuck thinking we are still treating physical-structural pain when it has actually morphed into other levels. We can observe this in the progression of:
- acute physical trauma (tissue destruction)
- to functional loss or limitation, and a loss of normal physiologic balance
- to sensory “derangement,” to feeling which cannot disconnect
- to important questions of meaning, self-worth, and morality.
We need pain therapies that are able to recognize all these levels of our humanity. That gives us tools to better know what is the primary imbalance.
It’s not possible to explain all of this in a three paragraph newsletter, but Dr. Blanning will be teaching a free webinar about treating earaches on Wednesday, November 13th, at 8:30pm EST/7:30pm CST/6:30pm MST/5:30pm PST. This will be a chance to better understand the difference between physical pain and functional pain: earaches are really a congestive (functional) illness. Routinely using Tylenol for pain control actually does little to address the underlying problem of stuck fluid, and can actually be associated with increased rates of other kind of illnesses, like asthma. Tune in for the webinar (or if you are busy that night, watch the recording which will be made available to everyone who registers) and learn about natural approaches for earaches which help reduce the need for pain medicines and antibiotics.
You can sign up for the free webinar HERE.