In a Ton of Pain? Don't Discount the Little Stuff

Aug 22, 2022

For this blog, I wanted to write about acute issues and flare-ups that people have. This means being in lots of pain, and you can't move very well, whether it be in your neck or in your lower back. I also wanted to help you understand what to do about it.

I think that people want a miracle big fix, and they think more might be better when they are in pain. And really, that couldn't be further from the truth. When you are having an acute flare-up, no matter where it is happening in your body, your brain senses that pain as a huge stressor, and we’re in a fight or flight mode and not able to heal.


The First Thing You Need To Do When You Are In Pain

So the first thing to do is try to get out of that stressed, very intense state and get as much into your parasympathetic self to help start that healing process and let your brain feel protected. When it's in a ton of pain, it feels threatened, and it's going to tighten things up everywhere to protect itself. It's there for a reason.

So a lot of times, let’s say when you're having a low back flare up, and you're trying to stretch it out because you feel tight, you're trying to take away the brain's safety mechanism. You're trying to stretch away something it's doing to protect itself. So we need to let it feel more protected and then be able to get more mobility.

So often, I will give people exercises that aren't in the area of the pain itself, and that is often also because where the pain is happening is definitely not indicative of where the problem is happening. A lot of times, the pain site is not where the source of dysfunction is. Ida Rolf said it best, “Where you think it is, it ain't.” And so, we'll try maybe some mobility exercises in the areas that are not painful around the area.


The Importance Of Breath Work When You Are In Pain

The number one thing that I like to do for people is breath work. Now we've talked about breath a ton on here, but I don't want you to discount it when you are struggling with a very acute issue. I know it feels like you're not doing enough, or you're not targeting the area that's painful, but it helps immensely and I don't want you to minimize what a big effect it can have on someone.

I had a few patients come in recently in the past two weeks who came in with excruciating pain. I gave them some mobility exercises to do. I always give patients exercises and breath work to do, and send them videos to do with it. And I always put the caveat on there that this is not a no pain, no gain situation. So if the exercise that I give feels sharp or too intense and painful, then they should skip it, and we’ll tweak it to be more accessible or find something altogether different to do. Because we don't want to give that brain any more reason to tighten up and guard against what we're doing.

So I gave these patients some mobility exercises to do and breath work, and I always give a variety of different breath work exercises to do because you never know what's going to be more accessible to someone. It might change depending on the time of day, depending on how they're feeling at that moment.

So with one particular patient, they weren't able to do the mobility work at all, and they were only able to do one type of breath work. They could only get into one position comfortably and do their breathing, but they did what they could. And they were shocked that they felt better just from breathing. Now, this person was having severe, low back pain, and they were just floored that breathing would have a positive effect on their back pain because, to them, it didn't seem connected. And it really is connected to your low back in the literal sense because part of the diaphragm attaches onto your spine itself, so they are connected.

But, it also has the ability to calm your nervous system because it's stimulating your Vagus nerves and helping you get from that fight or flight mode to rest and restore.

That is why we need to learn that 360-breath. We did a blog on what 360 breath is, why it helps, and this is why: because doing that type of breathing, whether whatever style you're doing to get that more stiff area to open up, is going to help with that diaphragm engagement – our breathing muscle – and that allows us to really stimulate the Vagus nerves and help get you into a more relaxed and restful state. It can also make a difference in helping you get more rest or more sleep because we really need sleep to heal as well.

So for her, doing the breath work, just the one style for a few days, was able to get her enough relief, come in to see me, and then we were able to get her to be able to do a few more different styles of breath work to help get even more mobility of the rib cage. Remember that good mobility of the rib cage is also going to affect your low back. That would be one of those instances where getting mobility in that area, even though your rib cage feels fine, you don't know why you’re working on your rib cage, that mobility then gives you less low back pain, and that can be for any area.


Ribcage Mobility And Neck Pain

I also have people do 360-degree breathing when they have neck pain as well. People think of their ribs as only on lower, on their sides, because they can see that area, but your rib cage comes all the way up to around your neck like that choker. It's really going to affect the mobility of your neck and the mobility of your shoulders. If you're having shoulder issues, rib cage mobility is very imperative.

The best way to get ribcage mobility is by working on your 360-degree breath. Everybody's different, everybody has different postural things that they do throughout the day, so where I'm tight at in my ribcage is not going to be the same place you are tight at in your rib cage. I spend my days bent over patients all day. So my issue for ribcage mobility is more lateral on the sides, just with the way I work on patients, but that's definitely not going to be everybody's issue.

So, when you're working through getting your ribcage more mobile, you want to kind of really check in with your body and see where you feel the tightest. You should also see if you feel tighter on one side versus the other. A good way to differentiate if you're able to expand more on one side of the ribcage than the other is if you're doing sideline breathing and you get that lateral movement of one side and then bringing it back in and do it both sides and see which side is easier. And then kind of peel back the layers of your day and think, “What am I doing throughout the day that might be a little asymmetrical? Do I drive with one arm and lean on something else with the other arm? Do I always watch TV on the same side of the couch and swing my legs to this one side, and how one side of the rib cage is real stretched out and the other side real compressed? And is that the same position I sit in every night to watch an hour of TV?” Maybe you should switch sides of the couch, mix it up and try to bring a little more balance back into your day.

Now for myself, I'm more limited in the “treating patients” part of my day, and I know what tightens me up in that area. So I try to use my coregeous ball, which is a little blow-up Pilates ball, to get better ribcage mobility because I do suffer a lot with carrying stress in my neck, and I'm prone to headaches. So I like to make sure that I ease that rib cage mobility, and that helps me keep the neck pain at bay and the headaches at bay.

That's a more chronic thing, but when you take those concepts and add it into your acute problems, doing that little bit of making your breath work better for you helps with the bigger problems that seem more in your face, like an acute flare-up where you can't walk really well, or you can't pick things up.



So don't discount the little things and the things that aren't where the pain is at because those can be what get you to the point where you can be more mobile, and you can take more active steps and then introduce mobility work and strengthening and those kinds of things to prevent something from happening later.

I just wanted to briefly touch on that for everybody, not just for my patients who come in. So don't discount the little stuff and the stuff that isn't where the pain is at because that can be what really helps you when you're having a really acute, terrible flare-up of something. So you can do stuff on your own throughout the day to kind of manage that and give you as much relief as possible so that you can get back to your normal routine, back to picking up your kids, running, going to the gym, all of those things. And if you have any questions on anything, feel free to reach out. I'd be happy to answer them!

If you have any questions, you can drop it in the comment section or you can send me a message through Facebook or Instagram. I’d be happy to do another blog about your questions. Also, if you want me to talk about something specific, let me know!

You can also check my TikTok account as I use the platform to educate viewers about movement, chiropractic education, yoga, pregnancy, and more!