Mind Over [Pain] Matter


The perception of pain is very complex.  The science of pain has taught us a great deal about all aspects of the neurophysiology of pain and how the brain processes pain signals from our bodies.  One thing that has emerged through this advancement of knowledge is a confirmation that we can make use of conscious skills and strategies to control the emotional affect and perceived intensity of pain.

One can use distraction techniques to divert attention from the pain. Awareness of an individual’s patterned responses to pain, and a conscious change, or rewiring, of those patterns can be extremely helpful in lessening the effect that physical pain has on our sense of wellbeing.

Pain can lead to a fear and anxiety response that actually worsens the perception of pain. This aggravated pain experience then makes the start of the next pain episode more anxiety producing and a learned cycle of increasing pain, fear and anxiety is created. This can lead to a worsening of a chronic pain condition and depression. The secret to breaking this negative pattern is to use techniques and skills to stop each pain episode from spiraling out of control. Mastery of these skills can help one gain better control over their painful condition and free up time for more pleasant and productive experiences.

There are formal schools of psychological approaches to this type of pain management, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), and others. This is most efficiently incorporated into an overall pain management program through the help of a pain psychologist. There are many books and other sources, however, where information about how the psychological response to pain, and how we control it, can make a huge difference between the pain getting one down vs. being able to rise above it to a happy and productive life. [1-6]

1. Doidge, N., The brain that changes itself : stories of personal triumph from the frontiers of brain science2007, New York: Viking. xvi, 427 p.

2. Sarno, J.E., Healing back pain : the mind-body connection1991, New York, NY: Warner Books. xii, 193 p.

3. Sarno, J.E., Mind over back pain : a radically new approach to the diagnosis and treatment of back pain. Berkley trade pbk. ed1999, New York: Berkley Books ;. 124 p.

4. Sarno, J.E., The mindbody prescription : healing the body, healing the pain1998, New York, NY: Warner Books. xxviii, 210 p.

5. Begley, S., Train your mind, change your brain : how a new science reveals our extraordinary potential to transform ourselves2007, New York: Ballantine Books. xviii, 283 p.

6. Arden, J.B., Rewire your brain : think your way to a better life2010, Hoboken, N.J.: Wiley. x, 243 p.