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The Power of Breath – Pain management

By Mélanie Renaud, PSP Ottawa Physical Exercise Specialist

Suffering from daily pain again? Sigh. Why can’t it just go away! As days, months and years go by, persistent pain can affect different aspects of our lives as it provokes changes not just in our physical body but also neuroplasticity changes in our nervous system as well. The key is to empower ourselves with knowledge and tools to help manage the pain, as opposed to allowing the pain to manage us. We can learn how to set ourselves free from the shackles we thought our pain had us locked in.

It is time to learn and more importantly to practice a very well-documented method for helping alleviate persistent pain: longer, smoother, softer breathing. This method is advocated by Neil Pearson, a physiotherapist and Canadian leader in research and teaching of the complexities of persistent pain and how we can, through self-care, “make a shift in the paradigms of pain”.

Unnecessary tension in our muscles and joints increases our pain experience. Longer, smoother, softer breathing encourages relaxation and tension release in our bodies. Calming our breath with fluid movements is a very powerful way to remodel the neuroplasticity pathways of pain. This type of therapeutic breathing also calms our nervous system and stops some pain messages from going up and down the spine between the brain and the site of pain.

Imagine your brain are your home, your spinal cord is a road and your site of pain is where you work. A person that is pain free or has never experienced persistent pain is like having a home in the middle of the country, with a small dirt road leading to the house that is barely wide enough for two cars to drive on, and a very modest road leading to a small village where they work. Imagine they discover that this village is sitting on a gold mine and within a short period of time, hundreds of people are needed to exploit the resources. The village (site of pain) becomes a city and the dirt road (the spine) used to get to and from work is no longer sufficient for the increase in traffic (pain signals) so the city builds a four-lane highway and the house (your brain) is now in suburbia along with hundreds of new homes (increased nerve sensitivity and more receptors).

This is an analogy of what happens to your central nervous system (the entire your brain/spine connection). As the city invests in roads and infrastructure to support the new increase in population and activity, the body will do the same. Neuroplasticity is the term used to describe the phenomenon that takes place in our bodies as it will mold like plastic to the new demands placed on our brain and spine. Longer, smoother, softer breathing is like speed bumps, helping cars (pain messages) to slow down their pace. The more we practice this therapeutic breathing, the slower and lessened the pain signals will get, eventually, via neuroplasticity changes to our central nervous system, gradually bringing us closer to how we were prior to our persistent pain.

This year, take time to relax and breathe; your body and mind will thank you for it.

For more information on Neil Pearson and his approach please go to:

This post is also available in: Français (French)

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