Chronic pain is a condition that impacts your life in every way. Things that were normal tasks now become painful experiences that prevents you from getting through your day. Things that were once routine motions in your day are now painful, day in and day out. And when people complain of this constant, chronic pain, others wonder if the pain is even real.
You obviously know the answer to that because you live with it each day, but did you know that your pain is unique to only you, which is why others can’t seem to understand it. Each person experiences pain differently, and it can’t be measured by external forces (unless advanced medical tools are used like MRIs or brain mapping).
Since pain is subjective, professionals have come to the conclusion that it’s mostly psychologically driven, with all pain regulated in your brain regardless if you are physically hurt or simply hurting because of an old injury that didn’t heal correctly. In either case, nerve fibers are sending messages to your brain telling you to feel some sort of pain.
With chronic pain, a person continues to experience pain after an injury was supposed to heal, but for reasons unknown, the injury hasn’t healed as expected so their nerve fibers fire as if there is still damage to that region. And because there is continuous transmission, the transmission time increases, which then results in more pain on top of pain. While all this is happening, there’s an increase in the number of pain-causing neurotransmitters in their nervous system, creating a vicious feedback loop of pain within that system. Thus, chronic pain continues with no end in sight.
So how does emotions come into play? Well, just like pain, they are creations of your brain. They are simply electrical and chemical impulses that result in nerves firing and brain chemicals being secreted. And just as neurotransmitters play a part in pain, they also send information to our body regarding emotions.
Chronic pain not only comes with physical pain, but emotional, too, with patients describing emotions like fear, depression, anxiety, anger and helplessness in describing their pain. Pain is meant to protect your body from harm and when it feels pain, your body can also experience aversive emotions as a way to respond to whatever that pain is. So when you experience chronic pain, the physical part of it becomes less important and the emotional components of it start to takeover.
When you start to think differently about your chronic pain, you’ll be able to get rid of it. With psychological treatment, you’ll be able to realize that even though the pain is very real, it’s simply something your mind is creating. While many think they have to live with chronic pain, the truth is that pain is something we can control if we put our mind to it. By learning to think about the pain in a different way, your mind will finally stop that feedback loop that causes the pain so that you can experience relief. When you constantly think about the pain, you’re only making it worse, but by redirecting your mind and the way it experiences pain, you’ll be able to lessen it or turn it off. Even though pain is caused by your mind, don’t think that it’s not real because it is. This just means you need to address your brain and not just the physical pain if you really want to heal. With the right training, we can control our perception of chronic pain, which will change the way we experience it. A recent study by Dr. Mackey and other researchers at Stanford University showed that we can teach the brain how to deal with pain after they used real-time fMRI brain imaging to support this theory. They were able to show patients with chronic pain their brains when they were distracted with either pleasant thoughts or soothing music, which showed parts of their brain associated with pain subsiding in activity.
So if you suffer from chronic pain and would like to change the way you live, it’s time to change the way you think. With the help of a trained therapist, you’ll be able to practice mind over matter and become your own painkiller!