If you live in a state of chronic stress or pain, your nervous system will remain permanently alert, with your muscles in constant tension. (File image)

As a medical student, I once heard a surgeon tell a woman he was taking care of: & # 39; Pain is just nature's way of telling you that you are a real patient. & # 39; I think that, under cynicism, he was becoming an important fact: that chronic pain is both common and difficult to treat.


The easiest thing you can expect as a patient is a prescription for pain killers. You take them and hope it does the trick. Sometimes, often not. So what are the alternatives?

First you have to make a distinction between acute and chronic pain. Acute, immediate pain is a natural part of life. It is there to protect us.

You touch a hot stove, feel pain and immediately withdraw your hand. But our pain signaling systems can go wrong. Instead of calming, they continue to fire long after an original injury has healed, leading to chronic pain.


Three to four breaths

Breathe in slowly through your nose to a count of three, then hold for four seconds, before exhaling for five. You can do this at any time that you feel stressed or in pain.


Four square breaths

Find somewhere comfortable to sit or lie down. Then breathe in slowly through your nose to a count of four, hold it and then breathe through your mouth to a count of four. Do this ten times. You should feel yourself relaxed and the pain begins to ease. Try to do this at least four or five times a day.

Alternative nostril breathing

This is a well-known yoga exercise, also known as nadi shodhana pranayama, which & # 39; subtle energy clearance breathing technique & # 39; means.

Sit comfortably somewhere. Begin by exhaling through your mouth and then use your right thumb to close your right nostril.

Breathe in deeply through your left nostril to a count of four. Really fill your belly. Now switch sides. Block your left nostril with your thumb and fully exhale to a count of four. Repeat ten times.

A recent study found that this type of exercise led to a reduction in blood pressure in volunteers and also helped them perform better in terms of dexterity and hand-eye coordination tasks.


If you feel completely dizzy, what I did the first time I tried this, you try too hard. Don't push yourself. This should be relaxing.

I know someone who dropped his spine down two years ago and who has hurt ever since. The number of people living with chronic pain – with a duration of three months or longer – is huge.

According to a study by the British Pain Society, 40 percent of the British population – about 28 million adults – live with chronic pain and half of them say that pain is moderately or even severely debilitated.

There may be an obvious, underlying condition, such as cancer or arthritis, but often this is not the case.

We don't really know why it happens, but we do know that a back injury is often the cause, that women are more likely to experience chronic pain than men, and that it occurs more often with age.


If you live in a state of chronic stress or pain, your nervous system will remain permanently alert, with your muscles in constant tension. (File image)

If you live in a state of chronic stress or pain, your nervous system will remain permanently alert, with your muscles in constant tension. (File image)


Apart from a dodgy right knee, I am relatively pain-free, but it is a subject that I am really interested in.

So I was intrigued to read a fascinating new book called The Meaning Of Pain by osteopath Nick Potter. Nick himself suffers from a chronic back injury. This still pops up occasionally, so he knows what prolonged pain can do for you, mentally and physically.


He writes well about science and offers numerous tips for self-help.

But one of the things that really surprises me is the emphasis he puts on breathing. As he says in his book: & # 39; Each of my patients has taken it for granted that if they don't do their breathing exercises, it doesn't make sense to come back. & # 39;

Breathing is such a basic situation that it is hard to see how it can do otherwise reduce pain. But as he and others have noted, chronic pain is closely linked to stress and learning to cope with & # 39; controlled breathing & # 39; is an important part of the treatment of both. This is partly because pain and stress have a similar effect on the body. They increase your heart rate and blood pressure, make breathing faster and shallower and ensure that the muscles become tighter.

If you live in a state of chronic stress or pain, your nervous system will remain permanently alert, with your muscles in constant tension.

And it's not just your body. Stress and pain cause your levels of stress hormones to rise, leaving your brain in constant excitement. You will be more sensitive to pain signals and you will be much more aware of it. One way to help break this vicious circle is to practice deep breathing exercises.



Sit down in a chair with a hard back. Place one hand on your chest and your other hand just below your rib cage, resting on your stomach. Take a deep breath a few times. Which of your hands moves the most?

If it is the hand on your chest, you are a & # 39; breast breath & # 39 ;. People with pain often take rapid, superficial breaths and tend to unknowingly hold their breath, leading to increased tensions.

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However, if the hand on your stomach moves the most, you are an & # 39; aperture breather & # 39 ;, which is a good thing.

By breathing long and deep, you force down your diaphragm, the large muscle that lies under the lungs, causing your abdomen to expand. This reduces tension and stress.

You can practice: take a slow, soft, deep breath through your nose, deep into the bottom of your lungs. It must feel like you're blowing a big balloon in your stomach. Check if your belly is growing but your chest is hardly moving. This may be the opposite of what you normally do, but most people soon get the gift.

There is some science to it. A 2016 study published in BMC Complementary And Alternative Medicine discovered that yoga breathing was able to reduce stress-related connections in the saliva of volunteers for only 20 minutes.

In this study, instructors taught participants to breathe in for two counts, hold eight counts, and exhale for four counts – two-eight-four breaths. But there are many different deep breathing exercises that you can try. On this page are three that I have used, of which the lawyers say they can help you deal with pain.


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