When we sense pain, it is a way our brain tells our body that something is not right. But when it is the brain that is playing tricks with us, we often don’t realize what’s going on. Many times, people with chronic pain that do not get any relief from painkillers and muscle relaxants question themselves: Why do we have pain even when we not doing anything physical? Why do we have pain even though our doctors cannot find any physical cause or problem? Very rarely does our mind comprehend the fact that this pain might be our brain’s way of telling us something is wrong within us.
Researchers have been trying to study pain perception for years in the hope that a better understanding may help lead to far more effective treatments or management of pain and, in an ideal world, measures that could actually prevent the pain from occurring in the first place.
Anyone who has experienced severe or long-lasting pain is aware that it can easily induce an emotional response. For example, chronic pain can make one feel depressed, anxious, paranoid and even apprehensive. But having read about The Mind-Body Syndrome (TMS) and Dr. Sarno’s theory, we now know that the reverse is true as well.
Pain can be triggered or made worse by our emotional issues, our sensitivity levels and the negative factors in our life. It is well established that people with depression often suffer from body aches and pain. And the investigation by Dr. Sarno reveals that certain emotions tend to express themselves as pain or different types of sensation. For example, a person with extreme anger or rage may experience pain, numbness or tingling sensations. A person with unresolved conflicts or closure may experience back pain or pelvic pain. In many such patients, treating the pain with prescription pain pills does not resolve the pain. That is because it is the emotional cause that needs to be treated and managed.
Studies also show an association between anticipation and pain. Participants underwent two experimental sessions. In one session, their brain activity was measured through moderately painful laser heat pulses. In the second session, they were asked to report the level of pain relief through the application of a local anesthetic cream or an inactive cream. Participants were asked to rate the pain on a scale of 0 to 10. The findings showed that patients reported a reduction of pain merely because the participant’s perception of pain reduced in anticipation of the effect of the local anesthetic. Even though the anesthetic was a placebo, they still reported a reduction in their pain level.
So what does all this mean?
It simply means that pain is perceived differently by different people. In some people, even mild pain may be sensed as severe and vice versa. Also, the cause of pain is not always something physical like a broken bone or disrupted ligament or tendon. There can be a psychological cause of the pain. People who suffer from chronic pain which has not responded to conventional treatments like prescription medications and surgical intervention need to explore the emotional aspects of their lives and how it could be demonstrating itself as pain. Dr. Sarno’s studies reveal that reducing anxiety and negative behaviors can significantly lower back pain. This may involve getting to know more about the pain, reducing stress, adopting positive behaviors and changing lifestyle.
Our brain can trick us into changing our focus from one thing to another. That is the power of our brain. But for patients with TMS, it is important to learn how to conquer this battle of the brain and how to overpower the brain’s attempt to shift our focus from the core problem.