A novel way to reduce pain so you can sleep better with Dr. Alissa Wolfe
You can't sleep if you're in pain. And it's hard to reduce pain if you can't sleep. It can be a vicious cycle.
In this week's episode of The Insomnia Fix podcast, Dr. Alissa Wolfe, creator of The Chronic Pain Breakup Method, explains her unique approach to managing pain.
We talk about:
how pain keeps you awake
why it takes more than regulating the nervous system to stop pain
how she uses neuroscience to help her clients with pain
how sleep aids interfere with the healing process
Find out more about Alissa and her program at https://www.alissawolfe.com/.
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Here’s a summary of the interview:
Chronic pain can be a debilitating condition that significantly impacts one's quality of life. Unfortunately, traditional pain management methods often fall short in effectively treating chronic pain. Physical therapy exercises and pain medications may provide temporary relief, yet the underlying nervous system dysfunction remains unrecognized and untreated. In this podcast episode, our guest speaker shares her experience and expertise on the nervous system retraining process, a whole-system approach that's effective in treating chronic pain.
Pain is the body's alarm system that signals potential injury or infection. It activates the 'fight or flight' response, which reallocates the body's resources to muscle activation, affecting muscle groups like upper traps, paraspinals, and hip flexors. Fight or flight also affects rest and digestion functions, like digestion, reproduction, and the immune system.
Chronic pain sensitizes the nervous system, causing brain fog, inability to focus, and irritability. This cycle of pain and nervous system activation can lead to a vicious cycle that perpetuates the state of chronic pain.
Nervous system retraining is an approach that addresses the root cause of chronic pain — the nervous system's dysfunction. It involves using drills and strategies to regulate and retrain the nervous system to get out of the fight or flight response. The brain, spinal cord, peripheral nervous system, and autonomic nervous system all undergo changes when someone experiences pain repeatedly.
Retraining strengthens the interpreting power of the brain so that it doesn't react to messages that don't require a response. By rewiring and cleaning the brain of hardwired connections and pathways, formed when someone experiences pain repeatedly, nervous system retraining makes these pathways less automatic. It's a whole system, not just one exercise, that includes nervous system retraining, neuroscience education, and learning about what is going on in the body.
The approach includes various drills, such as left-right discrimination drills, motor imagery drills, sensory discrimination drills, and mirror therapy drills. Mirror therapy, for instance, re-trains the brain to realize the missing limb is not there and can be effective for treating phantom limb pain, as well as other types of chronic pain.
Alongside these drills, other components include pacing, sleep, and flare-up management strategies, all of which are important to the retraining process. Learning how to incorporate stretching and strength training without causing more pain is also critical.
Sleep is a fundamental step in the process of nervous system retraining. Even if it's not perfect, it's still important to work on improving it to be successful with nervous system retraining. The actual rewiring and cleaning of the brain happen during deep stages of sleep. Unfortunately, pain activates the 'fight or flight' response, which is not conducive to sleep.
There are natural strategies to improve sleep, such as using vagus nerve exercises to calm the nervous system, promoting relaxation. Reducing stress is also essential in addressing nightmares, which can be caused by factors such as chemical toxicity and imbalanced B vitamins. Balanced B vitamin intake and protein intake before bed can also
help with sleep issues.
The speaker also highlights the use of CBD as a potential option for pain management. CBD can help reduce pain and sleep medication usage when it is the right time for you.
While there is a risk to using CBD, with potential side effects, it can be an effective choice for those who can afford it.
Chronic pain can be challenging to manage, but with the nervous system retraining approach, there is hope for recovery. It's a comprehensive system that includes various components to help regulate and retrain the nervous system. Empowering yourself with knowledge and strategies to improve your quality of life is critical in managing chronic pain. The journey may be long, but the results are worth the effort.