“Pain is a subjective experience created by the brain when it feels threatened” says Renata Nunes, physiotherapist and pain expert. “Each individual will experience different forms of pain and it can be seen as a good warning sign that something is not right in the body. Pain is part of a complex system of protection. In this system, we can include past memories, beliefs, fears, emotional state, social factors – all of which will influence the brain response. Pain can be triggered by thoughts and feelings, and can be exacerbated depending on our emotional state.”
As it is possible to feel pain whether you’re injured or not, and likewise possible to be injured and feel no pain, how you manage the effects can be – and should be – up to you. What works for one person, or one injury, may not work for the next. If you’re in search of the best pill-free fixes, our experts can point you in the right direction.
Best For Headaches & Migraines: Acupuncture
We sat down with Ada Ooi, founder of 001 Skincare and member of the Acupuncture Society to understand the role of this ancient needle therapy in the context of pain relief. “The Gate Control Theory researched in the 1960s was the first and continued researched theory to show that acupuncture has the ability to fill the peripheral nerves with sensations, in order to shut the "gate" for pain signals to travel”. says Ada. “Patients with high stress levels, anxiety and depression tend to experience more chronic pain than an emotionally healthy person. Acupuncture can help relieve symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression and consequently decrease the pain” adds Renata.
Best For Back & Shoulder Pain: Gua Sha
No, we don’t mean Gua Sha in the jawline-contouring, facial-massage kind of way. This one’s a bit more intense, explains Ada. "Gua Sha also works by interrupting pain signals with sensations and temperature on the location where soft tissue is being slightly injured. Numerous researches have also shown that both acupuncture and Gua Sha have the ability to trigger the brain to release endorphins (our body's natural pain-killing and mood-relaxing chemical) and hence have the ability to release pain and tension.”
Best For Undiagnosed Or Chronic Pain: Wim Hof Method
The Wim Hof Method was made famous by its life eponymous, larger-than-life creator (aka the Iceman). It is thought to be particularly powerful in combatting the symptoms of fibromyalgia (whole body pain and headaches). Rather than a one-off treatment, it is a programme of conscious breathing exercises and controlled exposure to cold, usually in the form of freezing showers. The Wim Hof Method can be learned at home as part of a ten-week online video course.
Best For Sports Injuries: Physiotherapy
This is tried and tested for injuries caused by exercise or accidents. Patients with such injuries are often referred by their GP to a physio. “When we have an acute injury – for example an ankle sprain – the injured area will recover within a few weeks. If pain continues when the person is no longer suffering from an injury, it means that the pain system is overprotective” says Renata. “Physiotherapy is a great way to help both acute and chronic pain through rehabilitation and re-education by movement. During a session it is important that physiotherapists explain to their clients about the pain system. When we understand pain, it changes the way that we respond to it.”
Best For Releasing Trauma: Therapeutic Massage
According to Harvard Medical School, therapeutic massage may be an effective way to relieve pain by relaxing painful muscles, relieving stress and possibly helping to ‘close the pain gate’ by stimulating competing nerve fibres and impeding pain messages to and from the brain. Samantha Trinder, therapist and founder of Bhuti told us “As pain is a response of the nervous system and therefore in the mind. Therapies that reduce stress move the body out of the ‘stress response’ which we are all in most of the time and into the ‘rest and digest response’. This is our parasympathetic nervous system, where physical sensations and pain are felt less acutely. Body treatments such as massage and myofascial release help release the trauma that is stored in the body, and therefore help manage pain relief.”
Best For Tension Buildup: Myofascial Release
Another soft tissue therapy that yields powerful results is myofascial release. Often pain is caused by stuck or hardened fascia - the connective tissue that covers and connects the muscles, organs, nerves, blood vessels, lymph vessels and skeletal structures. This can be caused by stress, trauma, poor posture or injury. By releasing the fascia through a series of stretching, rocking and other manual movements, the tissue can return to health. This method is particularly powerful to relieve pain in the neck, back, jaw, shoulders as well as headaches and migraines.
Ada Ooi is available for bespoke facials at her Harley Street clinic. Visit Adaooi.com
Renata Nunes MCSP is a London-based physiotherapist and pain expert. Visit Rkntherapist.com
Myofascial release is offered by Bhuti in Richmond. Visit Bhuti.co