The Mind-Body Pain Connection
Published: July 2, 2021
If you’ve ever had a visible injury or disability, it’s likely that you received sympathetic remarks from friends and strangers alike. That’s not always the case for people who live with chronic pain but otherwise look healthy. Someone may tell them, “Maybe it’s all in your head.” Nobody wants to hear their discomfort made light of, but in fact, pain is both very real and is partially “in our head.” Studies show that the way we think about pain can affect how we think about it and how it affects our lives.
Pain and anxiety go hand in hand. When something hurts, we stress about it—and that, in turn, can increase our pain. But Belgian researcher Anneleen Malfliet discovered that once we receive a diagnosis, chances are our pain level will decrease. Malfliet published a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association’s Neurology, showing that when patients understand what’s causing their pain and how the pain mechanism works, they experience less pain.
Malfliet, of Vrije Universiteit in Brussels, studied a group of patients who had chronic spinal pain. Half of the patients received training and education about the neuroscience of pain—what it is and how it works. These patients reported lower perception of pain. It seems that when pain is less of a mystery, our brains pay less attention to it. When we internalize the knowledge that the pain itself isn’t damaging us, it is less top of mind.
Malfliet reported a second, equally important, finding. People who are in pain often fear that physical activity will make them feel worse, when in fact physical activity may help reduce their pain. By avoiding exercise, they may end up exacerbating the problem. So Malfliet’s study subjects received training in proper and safe exercise techniques. Again, they felt less pain and anxiety.
This is very good news for the millions of people who live with chronic pain. Today doctors are more hesitant to prescribe the traditional opioid pain medications—and studies show that those drugs are not only dangerous but also may not actually be effective for many people. Alternatives to opioids include:
- Other medications, such as ibuprofen (Motrin), naproxen (Aleve) and acetaminophen (Tylenol)
- Physical therapy, including hands-on treatments (massage, ultrasound, hot and cold treatments), biofeedback, and training to help patients use their bodies in ways that reduce pain
- Meditation, yoga, tai chi, and other mind-body practices
- Counseling to help patients understand and cope with their pain
The bottom line: Manage your health problems with regular healthcare appointments. Follow the doctor’s recommendations on treatments, medications, nutrition, exercise, and other lifestyle choices.
Welbrook Centennial Hills experts offer a wide array of pain management options for our guests. Ask us about our state-of-the-art treatment, provided by compassionate staff in our beautiful surroundings.