The Psychology of Pain


Sooner or later all of us have to deal with periods of time where we are in pain.    Understanding the psychology of pain can help you navigate these challenging periods of time.  All Pain Is Regulated by Your Brain.

Traumatic physical injuries do not have psychological triggers per say, but if the pain persists long after an injury has occurred, there is often an emotional aspect involved. Pain also becomes a learned experience and becomes a pattern. When pain is perceived over an extended period of time, the brain produces more pain-causing neurotransmitters and your pain threshold tends to get lower. Essentially, you become more sensitized to pain.   This is why controlling pain early on is key to recovery from injury and illness.

Several researchers believe emotions are a primary cause of pain, triggering as much as 80 percent of all pain.    Studies show that chronic pain is strongly influenced by emotions and can help explain the wide variation in pain perception in different individuals with the same injury.    In a study, researchers were able to predict with 85% accuracy whether an individual would go on to develop chronic pain after an injury based on reviewing their brain scans.

This along with other studies shows that changing emotions toward pain can significantly decrease the perception of pain. So, your attitude towards your pain is very important to your actual perception of pain!

Physical Movement Is a crucial treatment component for Most Pain.    The body requires movement to remain pain-free and lack of movement by itself often causes pain to develop without any injury! Lack of movement restricts blood flow and sitting results in poor posture that can cause or exacerbate pain.   Muscles shorten and can cause pain upon standing.

Movement and exercise also change neurotransmitter levels and can directly combat depression.   This is important because depression and pain go hand in hand and the relationship can be reciprocal meaning pain causes depression and depression increases pain.

Most of us tend to “baby” any pain and avoid movement, but in many cases that is exactly the wrong thing to do.   In fact, many experts agree that when it hurts the most, that’s when you really need to get moving.

A large review of studies confirmed that not only is exercise the most effective way to prevent back pain the first place, it’s also the best way to prevent a relapse.    Among people with back pain, those who exercises had a 25 – 40 percent lower risk of having another episode of back pain within a year compared to those who did not exercise.

Strength exercises, aerobics, flexibility training and stretching were all beneficial in lowering the risk of recurring pain.      Some of the best forms of exercise for pain include water exercise (particularly in warm water!), Tai Chi, Pilates, and gentler forms of Yoga.   To minimize chronic pain it is critical to discover forms of movement and exercise that you can tolerate that do not exacerbate pain and this usually means low impact activities.