When you seek treatment for pain, part of that process should be a thorough education about pain.
This education should cover the basics:
- What pain is
- Why it happens
- What to do about it
So that you understand the physiological process, at least at a basic level.
Many people think pain is only a marker of tissue damage. It’s not. It is a multi-factorial sensory and emotional experience.
To help people change their understanding of pain, I like to describe pain as a verb, not a noun.
For those of you who can’t remember primary school English (or never learnt it in the first place):
- Verb = doing word
- Noun = thing
Thinking about pain as something you experience, instead of something you have is empowering.
It gives you an active role in your pain experience. This means you can influence your experience, for better and worse
How? With your thoughts, feelings and actions.
Pain Is A Body and Brain Experience
All pain has three major components:
- Cognitive (thoughts)
The relative contribution of each component varies.
Often we can determine which factor is likely to be the primary driver of each pain experience, but we can’t measure by how much.
Even though were aren’t always aware of each component, they are always there.
If the primary driver of your pain is physical, then physical treatment approaches tend to work best.
This is the same for psycho-emotional pain, which response best to psycho-emotional treatments.
Kind of obvious yeah?
Where it gets tricky, is that even physical approaches have cognitive and emotional aspects.
There is no separation.
Get Involved In Your Treatment
The best outcomes in pain treatment occur when you and your practitioner are working together.
This maximises the effects of treatment.
The more effective your treatment, the faster your resolution of pain. Again, kind of obvious yeah?
You are probably more involved in your treatment than you think.
First, you chose your practitioner (hopefully). The act of choosing is both psychological and emotional. You want to choose someone who is good at what they do, and who you like.
Second, you are probably already doing things to help your recovery. They may or may not be the best things, but you’re already changing your behaviour.
A good practitioner will point you in the right direction of what change is best, but you’ve made a start.
How To Change Your Pain Experience
Our mental and emotional state influences our perception.
Think about watching a movie. If you are on a first date, it’s a very different experience to watching the same movie with your long term partner after you’ve had a fight.
Same stimulus, different psycho-emotional status and thus different perception/response.
This principle can be applied to factors affecting pain:
- Take control of your emotions. First, identify your thoughts and emotions around pain. Commonly these include fear, anxiety, overwhelm and frustration, among others. Then you can change them. A good practitioner will help you with this.
- Improving your stress management. Stress is dictated by the way we frame an experience. Any event has the potential to be stressful. By learning to change your framing of stressful scenarios, you can minimise your stress load.
- Change your environment. Our environments shape us, for better and worse. Sometimes, as hard as it is, the best thing you can do for your pain is change or leave aggravating environments.
It might be strange to consider pain as a verb, not a noun. But as I outlined, it can make a massive difference to both your pain and suffering.
Taking a different view on things is the first step to changing your outcomes.
And while different views can be quite confronting, it is the only way to grow.
This blog post was written by Dr Nick Efthimiou (Osteopath), founder of Integrative Osteopathy.
This blog post is meant as an educational tool only. It is not a replacement for medical advice from a qualified and registered health professional.