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Floating for Pain Relief 

Testimonials for pain relief:

Relief from Rheumatoid arthritis pain 

Jan suffers from rheumatoid arthritis. When her boyfriend had given her a surprise present of a float session she had gone for her first float with some fear. While she was in the tank an unexpected thing happened: She felt the familiar arthritis pain in her lower back turn into a bright, intensely glowing ball of light. Jan fo­cused on the shimmering spot and felt the pain disappear. “It was about forty minutes into the float, and then, well, time just disappeared —you know, there was just no sense of time at all until the music started telling me my hour was up.” It wasn’t until a few days later that she remembered the glowing ball of light in her back, and realized she had been free of pain since getting out of the tank. When I spoke with her several weeks later she had floated three times and was eager to begin doing floats longer than an hour

Pain from broken bones

“When I broke several bones in a bicycle accident,” recalled John Lilly, the developer and first explorer of the floatation tank, “I went for five days without sleep before finally resorting to the tank in desper­ation. There, I was free from the pain, without drugs, for the first time since I had the accident. That’s because a tank frees up all the pain due to gravity.

Chronic pain relief test cases

In Phoenix, Arizona, seventeen former manual laborers who had suffered disabling injuries that were intractable to surgery, many of them victims of chronic pain, were put through a sixty hour therapy course that centered on immersion in floatation tanks. After the floating regimen, fourteen of them were able to return to work — many for the first time in years —with remission of pain, and recoveries the men’s employer called “on the order of miraculous.” Psycho physiologist Har­old Cahn, Ph.D., of Wellness Research Associates, claims that a follow up after two years confirms the remission

The question is why?

I could continue with scores of stories like these, since almost every­one I spoke with about floating had his or her own favorite “how float­ing cured my headache” story. No one, including scientists who have done tank research, seems to have any doubts that floatation has remark­able analgesic effects.

How pain is transmitted through nerves:

First, it’s important to understand how messages travel through the unthinkably complex network of the brain’s nerve cells. Scientists estimate that the brain contains some 100 billion of these cells, called neurons — about the number of stars in the galaxy. Most importantly, no two of these neurons are exactly alike. Each neuron has a central core or body from which sprout numerous long wispy filaments known as dendrites, which form bushy trees with intricately interlaced branches around the cell body. Also extending from the cell body is a single stringy fiber, the axon, which branches into numerous filaments. Den­drites receive incoming signals and carry them to the cell body; the cell body emits outgoing signals, and the axon carries the signals to the numerous axon terminals, where the signals are passed on to many dendrites of many other neurons.

 A single neuron receives signals from hundreds or thousands of other neurons, and it sends messages on to hundreds or thousands of other neurons.

 With each unique cell sending several impulses per second, the brain is continually humming with billions of impulses — truly, in the words of one brain scientist, an “enchanted loom,” the vastest, most intricate, and ultimately most mysterious communications network that has ever existed.

 The impulses by which neurons communicate are carried from the cell body down the axon to the numerous axon terminals, or buttons, by means of electrical impulses. But there is a microscopic gap between the tip of each axon terminal and the receptor region on the dendrite of the cell next in line. This gap is known as a synapse, and for messages to be transmitted across the gap the electrical impulses must be translated into chemicals.

When a sufficient electrical impulse reaches the end of one nerve, that nerve end is stimulated to release a complex neuro­chemical, a long and uniquely twisted and sequenced pattern of amino acids. This neuro-chemical crosses the gap to the receiving dendrite of another neuron, where there are complex strings of amino acids called receptor sites. These receptors are shaped and twisted into a specific pat­tern, with amino acids arranged in such a way that only their perfect complement will “fit,” or bind itself to the site. It’s because the neuro-chemicals must have the identical amino acid pattern as the receptors to become attached, that the process has been compared to fitting a key into a lock.

 Once the proper molecule has fit into the receptor, the lock is opened; the receptor is stimulated into action: A message is transmitted from one cell to the next. The chemicals that carry these messages across the synapses are known as neurotransmitters.   These neurotransmitters play an important role in influencing our moods and feelings, carrying messages for us to feel happy, to suffer pain, to remember, to be depressed.

The body's natural opiates

Imagine their surprise when, in 1973, scientists made the amazing discovery that our brain cells contain receptor sites specifically designed to receive opiates. Heroin, morphine, opium, methadone, Demerol, and other such drugs fit right into these opiate receptors, like keys fitting perfectly into matching locks.

But here was a real mystery: The brain evolved millions of years ago (the opiates affect other vertebrates as they do humans, so we know that the receptor sites evolved many millions of years back), so how could it have these complex receptor sites that seem specifically suited for opiate drugs, which have only been in use some few thousands of years? What on earth are we doing with specially designed drug sites wired into our brains?

The power or opiates   

The scientists decided that the existence of opiate receptors meant that the brain must produce its version of these drugs -  natural pain­killers, our own chemical key to fit our receptor lock, secreted by the brain’s neurons. Such a key, able to unlock the secrets of pain, plea­sure, addiction, and mental illness.

In 1975 scientists discovered enkephalins (from the Greek for “in the head”), each enkephalin a string of intricately structured amino acids that fit the opiate receptors perfectly and have opiate like effects. It was soon discovered that each enkephalin was just a part of a much longer and more complex molecule. Part of this long molecule had even more powerful analgesic effects and was more long-lasting in the body than enkephalins. This molecule was called beta endorphin, from the words endogenous morphine (that is, morphine produced internally). Pro­duced by the brain, beta endorphin, and others of these natural drugs, seem to be released in situations of comfort as well as pain, are many times more powerful than morphine, and remain active in the body for hours.

  In the years since the discovery of the endorphins, scientists have found they serve an astonishing variety of functions, including relieving pain, causing pleasure, and filtering, selecting, and integrating information input from the senses. To return to the question of God’s inscrutable purposes in giving us opiate receptors, doctor and essayist Lewis Thomas ponders why the “enthralling” endorphins exist at all, not only in humans but in all vertebrates, even in worms:

  Endorphins offered explanations for many occurrences which had baffled scientists. For example, acupuncture — inserting needles into specific parts of the body and manipulating them in certain ways. In both laboratory and clinical settings it had been conclusively shown that acupuncture blocked pain; the Chinese had been using it for thou­sands of years, but no one could explain how it worked.

Then researchers decided to see how the drug naloxone affected the pain-killing abilities of acupuncture. Naloxone is a drug that has a structure vir­tually identical to the opiates, and fits right into the opiate receptors of the brain, but it has none of the pain-killing or pleasant effects of the opiates. By binding to the opiate receptors, naloxone fills up all the available receptors and blocks the entry of the real opiates, thus keep­ing any opiates in the system from having any effects. Since it keeps the opiate “message” from getting through, naloxone is known as an opiate antagonist. Since the endorphins are opiates, their effects are blocked by naloxone. When people who had been anesthetized by acupuncture were administered naloxone, acupuncture no longer deadened their pain. The conclusion: Acupuncture gets its anesthetic power by some­how stimulating the brain to secrete endorphins

Many who have studied acupuncture believe it works through in­fluencing the body’s electrical systems. One of the most exciting new developments in neuroscience and medicine has been electrotherapy:

Many doctors and medical researchers have treated sufferers of chronic, intractable pain by electrically stimulating parts of their brains. Doctors have found that just a few minutes of stimulation of certain brain areas can provide pain relief lasting twelve hours or more. Ex­actly how this electrical analgesia worked was a mystery. Again the opiate antagonist naloxone was administered, and suddenly electrical stimulation no longer alleviated the pain. The conclusion: The way elec­tricity turns off pain is by stimulating the brain to produce a flood of endorphins (Later tests analyzing body fluids confirmed this, show­ing endorphin levels increased eightfold after electrical stimulation.)

Electrical stimulation of the brain brings up a classic series of ex­periments carried out in the 1950’s by Dr. James Olds, who discovered a certain area in the hypothalamus of a white rat that, when electrically stimulated, seemed to cause the rat intense pleasure. Ingeniously, Olds wired up the rats so they could stimulate their own pleasure centers by pressing a foot pedal. The rats immediately began an orgy of self-stimulation, pressing the pedals as often as five thousand times an hour, and gladly underwent all sorts of horrible experiences for the chance to press the pleasure pedal. The scientists were intrigued. What in the world could be so very, very pleasurable?

With the discovery of the endorphins, and the experiments that fol­lowed which showed how electrical stimulation of the brain produced a release of endorphins, the answer has become more clear. Many neu­roscientists now suggest that the natural opiates are “the brain s own internal reward system. The rats were engaged in an activity that caused the release of pleasure in their brains, and, in the words of neu­roscientist Candace Pert: “When humans engage in various activities, neurojuices associated either with pleasure or with pain are released.” And as the well-known pleasures of opiates cause humans to behave like electrically wired white rats, so our internal opiates whether stimulated electrically or by whirling acupuncture needles, are apparently not just analgesic but also powerfully euphoric.

Can we control our body's release of opiates and therefore our pain:

The increased levels of endorphins and enkephalins we have discussed thus far have been in some way externally stimulated. However, we now know that humans are also capable of releasing endorphins into their systems simply by assuming a certain state of mind.

One of the most amazing — and baffling — medical phenomena has been the ability of humans to alleviate pain and heal themselves of virtually any illness merely by taking a medication or treatment which they believe to be beneficial, but which (unbeknownst to them) has no intrinsic therapeutic value — such as a sugar pill. This mysterious cura­tive factor, rooted somehow in the power of suggestion, is known as the placebo effect

 The sicknesses and pain the people suffered were not “in their heads” or imaginary; they were very real and often serious, and the placebo effect mobilized quite real and powerful physiological forces in their bodies. Just what those forces were, however, was a mystery. Now a part of that mystery has been solved; a number of studies have clearly demonstrated that the pain relief of the placebo effect is a prod­uct of increased levels of endorphins, released by the body in response to the placebo.

In one study, patients were given two injections of “pain-killers” after oral surgery, with the injections several hours apart. The injec­tions were either morphine, naloxone, or a placebo. Of particular inter­est were the subjects who responded to the placebo. It eliminated their pain as effectively as morphine; however, when they were given their second shot — this time of naloxone — they immediately felt significantly more pain. The obvious conclusion, then, is that the placebo worked by causing the people who received it to release internal opiates. Other experiments have confirmed this conclusion.”

We can voluntarily set our pain-relief and pleasure mechanisms in motion - that is learn mental tricks, and will ourselves to release endorphins, as well as other beneficial neurochemicals. The most effective tool yet found for accomplishing these ends is the floatation tank.