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Kaleidoscope of the Heart: Relieving chronic pain by caring for the heart

Rika Kayama

There are many people who suffer from chronic pain. Some 10 percent of Japanese feel pain in their hips, knees and other body parts, according to one report.

When I visit drugstores I see lots of pain-relief patches and ointments advertised as being "For pain!" Moreover, more salons these days are providing treatment such as massages and chiropractic care.

Chronic pain is complicated and it's quite hard to identify the cause even through X-rays and other imagining tests. Some doctors will even discontinue treatment, saying, "There's nothing wrong with you." I assume patients are left stumped by such diagnoses.

Sometimes people who cannot find relief for their pain are recommended by their doctors to "consult a psychiatrist" on the grounds that the pain might be caused by stress, and they visit my clinic. When I ask about their situation, most of the people say they feel depressed due to the pain and stay inside without the energy to do anything. Some only find pleasure in eating snacks or watching TV and their pain worsens as a result.

While I do prescribe medicine if I need to, I always advise patients that it's quite hard to ease pain when they become emotionally stiff, preventing the body from loosening up. I also suggest that sometimes the pain goes away naturally when patients nourish their heart, which strengthens the immune system.

I don't want my advice to be considered a comforting lie, because I believe that a stiff heart means a stiff body. In reality, I often hear of people experiencing their heart melting and somehow becoming physically well after listening to music that they liked when they were young or meeting with a friend that they get along with.

People can begin by taking action based on their feelings instead of thinking, "I can't go out until the pain is relieved." Patients should convince themselves that it's fine to use a wheelchair or a cane to go out, and that they can return home if the pain worsens halfway through. There's no need to be hesitant about causing others trouble. A group of people with similar hobbies ought to welcome you if you explain to them, "I've been in poor health for a long time, but I've decided to venture out."

It's extremely difficult to endure pain. But I strongly recommend that those who have always refrained from going outside because of their pain to step out this spring to see the cherry blossoms or find another good reason to venture out. If even for a second you are impressed by nature's beauty, then your time outside is a success. It means you are still equipped with the strength in your body to defeat the pain.

Even if I do feel pain, I remain myself. I want you to value your true self, too.

(By Rika Kayama, psychiatrist)

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