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Neutral sensations misinterpreted as pain vs. tight muscles causing pain

Discussion in 'General Discussion Subforum' started by Penny2007, Sep 16, 2017.

  1. Penny2007

    Penny2007 formerly Pain2007

    In one of the new pain recovery program days there was a mention of neutral sensations being misinterpreted by the brain as pain. I get this but what about tense muscles? That is not a neutral sensation and the tense/spasming muscle causes a lot of pain.

    I have been in a lot of pain in the last week and went to the doctor for pain relief. He felt my upper back and said it was severely spasming (it's super tight). I'm very stressed at the moment because my mom is visiting and triggering stuff.

    I'm not sure what I'm asking. It just dawned on me that my super tight muscles (caused by stress) are what are causing me pain and not neutral sensations being misinterpreted as painful.

    Any comments welcome.
    Saffron likes this.
  2. fern

    fern Well known member

    I'm curious about this, too, although in my case it's pelvic floor muscles that can go into spasm. It is tangible. In PT I learned how to tell the difference between a supple pelvic floor muscle and one in spasm, and I was able, with progressive PT stretches and exercises, to eventually eliminate spasm altogether. I have no doubt that muscle spasms were/are a clear physical cause of pain in my pelvic floor - I can feel the spasming muscle with my hand and can clearly tell how different it feels to the touch from when it's not in spasm. BUT, the muscle spasms weren't the *original* cause of the issue, and the solution was never going to be PT alone. I continued to hold my stress/anxiety in my pelvis after I successfully finished PT, and over time the muscles started to spasm again. Doing this TMS work, I've begun engaging my stress/anxiety before storing it in my pelvic and abdominal muscles, and my muscle tension has reduced somewhat.

    So, as far as I'm concerned, I think the immediate cause of the pain may well be physical, tangible, and treatable (say, with PT or muscle relaxing drugs/herbs), especially when it comes to muscle spasm. But even though the immediate cause of the pain may be physical, it doesn't help me to think physically because the deeper cause IS psychological. I'll always have the pain as long as I'm storing stress in my body instead of addressing it. AND the fear-tension cycle that started the muscle tension in the first place still makes the tension worse, to the point of spasm, if I don't address the fear of the pain itself, too.

    Thinking psychologically about physically spasming muscles is working very well for me so far. I run into questions when it comes to activity *in spite of* the pain, which I understand to be an important part of outcome independence. When it comes to pelvic floor tension, for example, I would never tell a woman to have sex even if it hurt, not just because of the obvious psychological, relational, and emotional issues at stake there, but also because pushing past those muscles when they are in spasm can lead to microtears, fissures, and muscle damage. For me there needed to be some degree of being gentle on spasming muscles while also learning not to feed the pain with fear, and to stretch and strengthen those muscles in a progressive, safe way (PT).

    That may make me not a TMS purist, I'm not sure. I'm still only just learning - and waiting for somebody to return the Sarno book I have on hold at the library. No matter what, the root of the work for me is still learning how to experience emotions without fear and without pushing them down. And, when spasms occur, not to be afraid of the pain. (All that great pain recovery program stuff!) But at least in my case, it also means not completely disregarding when my muscles are in spasm and doing something that could actually injure them. TMS techniques so far have helped me greatly reduce the amount of time my muscles spend in spasm, because the second a pelvic or abdominal spasm starts now I immediately check in with my mind/heart to see what's up - and I am not as afraid of/resistant to the pain. It's amazing how much faster the spasm relaxes when I approach it that way - even if I do go a little gentler on my body in the meantime and don't exactly say, "Bring it on," like Alan said in the recovery program.
    Lily Rose likes this.
  3. fern

    fern Well known member

    Also! With IBS I've become suspicious that the FIRST thing that happens is a mostly neutral sensation (say, a gas bubble moves through uncomfortably or I have mild indigestion). And I notice it with mild alarm/concern ("Uh oh, I hope this isn't the start of an IBS flare"). THEN my abdominal and intestinal muscles begin to spasm as I focus more and more on the area/pain. So what started out as a more or less neutral sensation becomes a physical spasm. But it didn't have to. Enter TMS.
  4. FredAmir

    FredAmir Well known member

    Oh, those mom visits! They are never easy. Her presence feels like a big burden on you and that's why your upper back is so tight and spasmatic. See my blogpost below on why we hurt where we hurt.

    http://www.fredamir.com/single-post/2016/10/13/Why-You-Hurt-Where-You-Hurt (Back Pain)

    Just know that you need to do any and all stress management strategies you can apply, from deep breathing or muscle relaxation techniques until storm passes.

    Hang in there!
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 8, 2017
    Penny2007 likes this.
  5. Sonic

    Sonic Peer Supporter

    It's a complex theory and you have to remember that everyone is different. Some cases it will be neural pathways and others muscle tension.

    In my case, I'm guessing that all my symptoms are a result of chronic tension caused by Anxiety. I apply the neural pathways of fear theory to my thoughts and actions. Basically change the negative to positive and use the congnitive soothing to communicate safety to the brain and Somatic tracking to monitor all these crazy symptoms that Anxiety can cause.

    It really seems to be a case of losing the fear but it takes knowledge and courage to make this leap.
    Penny2007 likes this.
  6. Penny2007

    Penny2007 formerly Pain2007

    @Sonic - thanks. It started as anxiety before she came and I guess I didn't take care of myself so it turned into pain. I don't usually have anxiety and pain at the same time. I have never had pain this bad before. It wakes me every night even with strong pain killers and it radiates down my arm (which hurts more then anything else). It's so hard not to fear the pain when it hurts so much!!! My automatic thoughts are that it will never end and I fear going to sleep because it is extremely painful when I wake in the middle of the night. I've been listening to Alan Gordon's Systematic Desensitization audio which is helpful.

    She's leaving today so hopefully that will allow for some improvement though I often feel guilt after her trips because I wasn't as nice as I could have been (though I don't think she noticed that as I mostly just get quiet around her) and the guilt just causes more TMS :(

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