Pain, Pain Go Away

A young GP asked me about a patient yesterday. Very concerned, she asked if I thought her patient’s chronic pain issues could be related to his emotional and mental state.

Of course they are I said, without a doubt.

I take my hat off to this young woman being brave enough to ask the question. Because it reveals how little our doctors are taught about the influence of our mind and emotions in our health. And hard as I and others try to encourage the use of true integrative medicine – body, mind and spirit – it seems for the most part, an almost impossible chasm to bridge with the powers that currently be.

And that leaves many people needlessly suffering.

The thing about chronic pain, as with many other health challenges, is that it’s influenced very heavily by the mind. Our bodies can become conditioned to experience pain, and then we experience pain by association. We can be primed to expect pain – often unknowingly – and voila there it is. And we can start to fear pain… which only makes it worse. Did you know someone with chronic pain can experience pain just by thinking about moving in a particular way? Or seeing another person move that way? How’s that for the power of the mind.

I think the most tragic example of the mind’s influence in pain is the story of Bob Flanagan a young man born with cystic fibrosis. So traumatised by the hospitalisations he endured as a young boy he rewired his brain to experience pain as pleasure – and then spent the rest of his short life as a masochist doing the most horrific things to himself because in some macabre way it felt good. It’s a story I find deeply disturbing. As the mother of a child with CF I remember reading it in Norman Doidge’s book and I cried.

I hate seeing people in pain. Be it emotional or physical. Because there’s so much that can be done to help if only they realised. The first time I ever worked with someone at a subconscious level to help them reduce their chronic pain, I wasn’t sure how much their situation could be helped. But despite my uncertainty and inexperience early on, this gent pushed back the pain barrier, cutting his meds by half. It was a joy to witness his new lease on life. When medicine said there was nothing more that could be done, he found a way. Believe me, he’d tried everything. He’d blocked it. Medicated it. Distracted himself from it as best he could. Subconscious-mind therapy was a last resort. But it was where he found relief. Perhaps the mind is where we should look first.

Because the thing I’ve learned about pain is that we only feel pain when the brain senses that we are under threat. And that’s not something under our conscious control, is it. In his book Explain Pain Lorimer Moseley puts it beautifully. No threat. No pain. After all, there are many people walking around with all sorts of degenerative issues but never any pain. Because at that deeper level their brains don’t feel under threat. But because our brains can act on misinformation and perceive a threat – even when there isn’t one – it’s no wonder people can experience chronic pain. Pain that continues long after the injury is healed.

Pain is the brain’s way of getting us to take action. Pain should never be ignored. Or endlessly medicated when other avenues haven’t been explored.  But when it comes to chronic pain and there’s no reason for it, it seems to me that if we can eliminate the sense of threat at that deeper level, we stand a bloody good chance of eliminating the pain.

Most people don’t realise when it comes to reducing chronic pain, a good quality subconscious-mind therapy can help…

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