What is chronic pain?
In the course of a lifetime, everyone will experience feeling pain, both emotional and physical. Pain is your body’s way of telling you that something is wrong. When an injury heals, normally the pain stops.
Chronic pain is more complicated. Chronic pain is pain that lasts for 3 to 6 months, or even longer. It can include pain that continues long after an injury has healed.
What causes chronic pain?
Pain is the result of a series of messages sent through your nervous system. When you injure yourself, the injury turns on pain sensors at that location of the body. These pain sensors then send an electrical signal, which travels from nerve to nerve until it reaches your brain. Then your brain interprets these signals and sends out a message that you are hurt.
In most instances the signal stops when the cause of the pain is resolved. However, with chronic pain, the nerve signals keep firing even after you’ve healed.
What does the research say are effective treatments for chronic pain?
Luckily much research has been done, and continues to be done, on how to treat chronic pain. The research indicates that an integrative approach involving multiple providers is most effective. This includes working with your doctor, a therapist, and a body worker (such as an acupuncturist, physical therapist, reiki practitioner, or massage therapist, etc.). The reason for this is because research has shown that there is not just a physical explanation for the pain, but also a psychological explanation. This doesn’t mean that the pain is all in your head. However, it does mean that your relationship with the pain and your beliefs about the pain, affect your ability to manage the pain symptoms.
Research indicates that catastrophizing is associated with increased pain outcomes: more intense pain, and the greater likelihood to develop chronic pain. Catastrophizing is also associated with higher levels of fatigue and increased anxiety and depression. On the contrary, research indicates that when individuals are able to attend to a sensation without fear or judgement, assuming that the pain is nonstructural in nature, the pain decreases.
Additionally, research has shown that several therapeutic interventions are effective in managing chronic pain. These include cognitive behavioral therapy, mindfulness activities, and somatic experiencing techniques.
Why are these therapeutic interventions helpful in managing chronic pain?
Current neuroscience research indicates that our belief systems affect how we experience the world. This same research shows that cognitive behavioral therapy, mindfulness, and somatic experiencing techniques can re-wire the brain. Since chronic pain happens as a result of messages being sent from the brain, it can be assumed that if the brain is re-wired the messages sent telling the body it is in pain will decrease and as a result chronic pain will decrease.
The goal of all three interventions is to come to a new understanding about your pain. Research indicates that when people participate in therapy for chronic pain, they often discover that addressing the emotional consequences of their pain experience can enable them to become more resilient, changing the ways in which they process their beliefs and their experiences from the perception that things are negative to the perception that things are manageable and less overwhelming. In general this leads to individuals experiencing less chronic pain.
So how can therapy assist you in reducing your chronic pain?
Therapy can assist you in understanding how chronic pain has changed your way of thinking, coping and judging yourself and others. In therapy you will learn coping skills that will re-wire the brain and restore normal brain function. This includes:
- Assisting you in understanding and managing the thoughts, emotions, and behaviors that accompany your discomfort so that you can cope more effectively with your pain — and can actually reduce the intensity of your pain. This is done by changing old beliefs about pain.
- As physical pain is intensified by your judgment of the pain. Therapy can teach you how not to judge or assess the pain. Specifically teaching you how to move on and refocus on something positive, which can lessen the sensation of physical pain.
- Teaching you mindfulness exercises, relaxation techniques, and breathing exercises to slow down your mind so you can better control your thoughts and gain a sense of the present moment. Pain literally steals this ability from you.
- If you also experience anxiety or depression therapy can help you build new coping skills and address the anxiety or depression that may accompany your pain.
- Research has been done indicating that reiki is a complimentary treatment for reducing chronic pain. Please see my blog on reiki for more information.
- Therapy can provide referrals that integrate planned movement exercises into your routine such as yoga practitioners, physical therapists, and acupuncturists. These approaches target limiting behaviors, as well as encourage and assist you in developing exercise routines (a proven tool in reducing many forms of pain). They also can assist in changing problematic manners of movement to help you in gaining strength, flexibility, and confidence.
- I can collaborate care with your physicians and pain management doctors.
If this way of working is intriguing to you, please feel free to contact me for a free 20 minute consultation at firstname.lastname@example.org or 503-880-7190.