Pain is something that all individuals can experience at some point. Pain can occur because of an injury or an illness, and it is a signal that the body has been damaged in some way. However, it has recently been shown that some types of pain can be remedied by leveraging the mind-body connection.
The mind-body connection is something that is not fully understood. However, researchers have found some promising evidence that individuals who are suffering from chronic pain may benefit from pain management techniques that leverage the strength of the mind.1
Medication is the most common method of managing pain, and it can be helpful in a lot of cases. However, opioid painkillers are easy to build up a tolerance to and can be addictive. There are undesirable side-effects to anti-inflammatories such as ibuprofen as well. Using nonpharmacologic treatments in conjunction with an existing pain management regimen offers a longer-lasting way of managing pain.
Leveraging the mind-body connection to manage pain does not mean that pain is all in your head. Rather, it means that there is a link between mood and mental state and how you perceive pain. Those who have lasting illnesses or serious injuries are likely to always experience some pain, but the neurological system plays an important role in how that pain is perceived. There are two common theories relating to how the mind processes pain: the gate control theory and the neurotransmitter theory.2
The Theories of Pain
The gate control theory of pain posits that non-painful input will close the gates to pain, preventing people from experiencing pain because they are experiencing other stimuli instead.3 The neurotransmitter theory is based on the idea that neurotransmitters can be activated or deactivated by different mechanisms, and that depression or other mood issues can have an impact on pain and vice-versa.4
If individuals accept that mood and mental well-being can impact perceptions of pain, then the next question is how can people make the most of that mind-body connection? The most obvious starting point is to use self-care to reduce stress and improve mood.
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Let’s take the simple example of a tension headache. It’s midweek and you have a big assignment due tomorrow. You’re also late for work and your landlord is visiting tonight to inspect your apartment. All of this is enough to form the beginnings of a headache.
You could beat that with a combination of caffeine and painkillers or get that salty, greasy take-out you’re craving. Alternatively, you can take a walk in the park, hydrate, and use the Zen blend to clear your head for the evening.5 There’s a good chance that this could prevent the headache from starting in the first place.
Alternatively, consider the example of someone with chronic arthritis. They find that they are in pain when it is cold and can’t sleep at night because of aches and pains. Regular exercise is useful for improving joint mobility and relieving stress. Exercise is also a mood-booster and improves circulation.
In summary, although you cannot wish away pain, you can change your outlook in a way that makes the pain easier to work through.
Remember not to ignore pain if you have experienced it for more than a few days—seek medical advice. If you suffer from chronic pain and are already managing it under a care plan with your physician, be sure to discuss any changes to those care plans with them before trying something new.
Pain is a warning signal, which is why paying attention to it and finding the root cause is important. However, most people, even those who are suffering from severe pain, can find ways to manage it so that they can lead an active and happy life. What works for one person may not always work for others, so try different treatments until you find what works for you.
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