The human body’s amazingly resilient. But when we understand the anatomy and physics of healing, we get a better understanding of how to manage our pain and how to boost our own natural healing potential.

Even if you don’t realize it, your body has an amazing ability to heal itself. It can mend your skin if it’s torn and repair your bones if they break. It has a built-in immune system to protect you from infection and it can fight off invaders like bacteria and viruses, most often with no help at all.

While scientists have only just begun to understand and tap into the healing potential that lies within the human body, new and exciting discoveries are being made in this area every day. That’s good news for people who suffer from chronic pain. New approaches to healing pain and promoting wellness also offer new hope for the millions of people who live with consistent or recurring pain every day.

The Anatomy of Pain

Before we delve into the anatomy and physics of healing from pain, we need to understand the anatomy of pain itself. What is pain? Why do we experience it? How do we experience it?

Watch this short video from Split-Second Science on Youtube to help put it in perspective.

While we most often think of pain as an uncomfortable and unwanted sensation, it is also an important part of our survival. Without pain our bodies would have no way of telling our brains when something is wrong.

A Closer Look at the Anatomy and Physics of Healing

We know that most pain occurs as the result of an illness or injury which has damaged the body in some way. We also know that immediately after an injury our bodies begin the task of trying to repair the damage. When we talk about the science of healing, what we’re really talking about is the science of how our bodies repair themselves after an illness or injury.

Consider what happens when you cut yourself, for instance. Your body immediately slows down the rate of blood flowing to the area of the wound. It releases clotting agents to help close the wound and stop the bleeding. Special white blood cells called neutrophils travel to the site of the injury to fight off infection. These cells soon attract other immune cells, called macrophages, which help sanitize the wound by getting rid of dead cells and waste material around it.

Once this phase is complete, the macrophages and neutrophils leave the area. Your body then begins the process of repairing damaged skin and tissue. Other cells, called fibroblasts, gather at the site of the injury. These cells form the building blocks for new tissue to grow.

Of course, there are many other factors involved in the anatomy and physics of healing. The human body contains some 200 different types of cells. Every type of cell has a unique role to play in keeping us healthy and free from illness, injury and pain. How long it takes for your body to heal and how much pain you experience during the healing process depends on many things.

The Science of Medicine

According to Merriam-Webster the word medicine is defined as:

the science and art dealing with the maintenance of health and the prevention, alleviation, or cure of disease

One of your doctor’s primary goals is to keep you from getting sick or becoming injured. This is why it’s important to keep your healthy patient visits. If your doctor can spot a health condition before it causes you pain or makes you sick, they have a better chance of curing it. Early detection of cancer, kidney disease, heart disease and other serious health conditions could save your life.

Sometimes in spite of all efforts to prevent it, an accident, injury or illness occurs. When it does, your doctor may approach treatment in several different ways. The first goal is always to try to cure the patient. If you have a bacterial infection, for example, your doctor might prescribe an antibiotic to help your body fight it off. In these cases, your doctor would expect you to make a full recovery.

Unfortunately, doctors and scientists have not figured out everything there is to know about the anatomy and physics of healing. There are still far too many diseases that modern medicine can’t cure. In cases where there isn’t a known cure, your doctor’s main goal will be to treat the symptoms of your condition. They may prescribe medications to help you feel better, help your body function better and to prevent further damage to organs and healthy tissue. If your doctor has prescribed medication to help treat your condition, it’s important that you take it as directed. Never stop or start medications without discussing the possible consequences of your decision with your healthcare provider.

Traditional vs Non-Traditional Treatment for Pain

Today, there are more options than ever before to help treat pain and illnesses. It can be difficult to know when to seek traditional medical treatment following an injury or illness. No one likes going to the emergency room, and no one wants to waste time at the doctor’s office if it isn’t necessary to be seen. While it isn’t always desirable, sometimes it is necessary. If you are in severe pain of unknown origin, for example, please seek medical attention. New or worsening pain can be a sign of a serious health condition that can only be diagnosed by a licensed healthcare professional.

Depending on the severity of your pain, though, you may be able to avoid the doctor’s office. If you have muscle pain or a sore back, a licensed massage therapist might be enough. Chiropractors used to be laughed at by the medical community, but they have earned respect in treating many back injuries. While science still isn’t sure how it works, acupuncture has gained mainstream medical acceptance for conditions as diverse as fibromyalgia and osteoarthritis.

Other natural and alternative pain remedies include marijuana and its cousin hemp. A walk around the block, stretching or a relaxing yoga session might give you some relief.

How severe is your pain?

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If your pain is so severe that you feel you can’t function normally, please see a healthcare professional.

Acute Pain

Acute pain is defined as pain that comes on suddenly. The type of pain you experience can vary depending on the underlying cause. Acute pain can occur anywhere in the body. It may be dull or sharp. It may seem to come and go or it may be constant.

If your pain is not severe, you can try to relieve it by:

  • Changing positions – Does lying down help? If you’ve been lying down, try sitting upright.
  • Walking – If you are able to get up and move around, this can sometimes help with pain relief. Doctors recommend walking for a wide range of conditions that cause back, hip, leg, knee and joint pain. (If you have an injury, such as a sprained ankle or a torn ligament, please don’t walk on it unless your doctor has given you the OK.)
  • Applying alternating hot and cold compresses to an injury – Try fifteen minutes of hot, followed by 15 minutes of cold.
  • Elevating the affected area – This may be especially helpful if there is swelling.
  • Using gentle massage on the affected area – We do this instinctively when we rub an achy muscle or other ‘sore spot.’ There’s a reason we do it. It really can help.
  • Over-the-counter pain medicines – As a last resort, you may find that an over-the-counter medication eases the pain. These medications are not for everyone. Some over-the-counter pain relievers can worsen existing health conditions. They may also interact with prescription medications you are currently taking. If you are unsure of your ability to take these medications safely, talk to your doctor or pharmacist first. You should also be aware that some over-the-counter pain relievers can affect the liver or the kidneys, so never take more than the suggested amount.

If none of these actions bring relief, it is time to seek medical help for your acute pain.

Chronic Pain

Like acute pain, chronic pain can range from mild to severe. The difference between chronic pain and acute pain is that chronic pain is ongoing. Doctors technically define chronic pain as any pain that continues for longer than 12 weeks.

Chronic pain can affect all areas of the body. Conditions of the muscular, skeletal and nervous systems can all result in chronic pain. The treatment that will work best for healing pain depends on the type of pain your are experiencing.

According to  the National Institute of Health Statistics the four most common types of chronic pain are:

  • Lower back pain (27 percent)
  • Severe Headache or Migraine Pain (15 percent)
  • Neck Pain (15 percent)
  • Facial Pain (four percent)

According to The Good Body, ninety percent of people who suffer from chronic pain say they have consulted a doctor or healthcare provider about their condition. Sadly, however, more than half of all chronic pain sufferers still say they feel they have no control over their pain.

The Science of Healing

As we said earlier, scientists are learning new things about our healing anatomy every day. It can be hard to predict how long a patient can expect to feel pain after an illness or injury. It may take some patients longer to heal than others. While not all of the variables are known, we do know that age and physical condition (prior to the onset of the injury or illness) often influence recovery time. Patients who smoke cigarettes may also find they recover at a slower rate than nonsmokers.

No discussion about the anatomy and physics of healing would be complete without talking about the role our overall health plays in our healing. It can be hard to want to take care of yourself when you are dealing with chronic pain. Try to maintain a healthy diet, even if you don’t feel like eating. Eat to keep your strength up, to boost your immune system and to nourish your body. Choose nutrient-packed foods like blueberries, cherries, kale, salmon and other foods on the superfoods list.

You might also consider adding certain herbs to your diet. Some people have successfully used thyme healing properties to relieve pain from arthritis (both osteoporosis and rheumatoid arthritis), gout and other conditions. Turmeric, devil’s claw root, and capsaicin may help if you are dealing with back pain. White willow bark, Boswellia, and feverfew (also known as butterbur) may help with headache pain. If these don’t work, use the FDA’s website to research other herbs that play a vital role in the anatomy and physics of healing.

Rest and Recover

Don’t ignore your body’s need for rest. When we are awake and active, our bodies have to divert energy away from healing and toward other activities. On the other hand, when we are at rest our bodies are free to expend our energy on the work of healing. Getting plenty of rest can be important for another reason, esearch suggests that lack of sleep may affect the way we experience pain, making us feel even worse.

If you have trouble going to sleep because of pain, you might want to try meditation or relaxation exercises before going to bed. Some people also find that guided meditation gives them some measure of relief from pain, while also helping them relax enough to fall asleep.

Healing Pain

There are many approaches to healing pain. Not all of them will work for every person. If you try something and it doesn’t work, that doesn’t mean the situation is hopeless. It just means that you have to try something else. New treatments for pain, like TENS therapy and Radiofrequency Ablation are emerging all of the time. Every day scientists gain new insights into the anatomy and physics of healing. Keep those things in mind as you continue to seek the treatment that works best for you.

Here’s a guided meditation that can help you relax your body and mind for pain relief.

Featured image CC by 0, via Pixabay

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