Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is highly recommended for breaking down overwhelming problems so that they are more manageable in everyday life.
Chronic pain in particular is considered highly responsive to such an approach – and according to new research this is very much the case.
A researcher at the University of Reading has found that painful areas on our bodies can be treated if sufferers undergo a series of CBT sessions.
The study involved a group of 34 healthy participants – half of whom were given five-minute spells of CBT followed by eight sessions of heat applied to their forearms, and the other half who received no CBT.
The heat was used to create an area of secondary hyperalgesia (an enhanced sensitivity to pain) to provide a measure of pain sensitivity in the surrounding points of painful injuries such as burns.
Through the management of negative thoughts with CBT, half of the participants saw a reduction in the symptoms of secondary hyperglasia by almost 40%.
The control group however reported an increase of 8%.
This means that by exploring and changing thoughts and feelings that are distorted and unhelpful, people can free themselves from their ’emotional’ pain, which contributes to a great deal of the suffering caused by chronic pain conditions.
CBT can ultimately alter the body’s responses to pain after injury.
Leading researcher, Dr Tim Salomons – from Reading University’s school of Psychology and Clinicial Languages – said of the study:
“We know that pain feels more debilitating when it signals illness or injury compared to when we are undertaking an activity we feel is beneficial – we go through the pain barrier.
“However we didn’t know whether our beliefs simply changed the emotional response to pain or if the mind actually changed sensations that arise from the body – until now.”
The study also showed that we are able to reduce our emotional responses to pain – as well as to the sensitivity of skin around the painful injury.
Dr Salomons added: “The [CBT] trained group also reduced the ‘unpleasantness’ they were feeling during the eight sessions by 58%. This indicates that the training changed the emotional response to pain as well as the sensitivity of the skin around the burn.”
Chronic pain is a common condition which affects over five million people in the UK. Common types of chronic pain include fibromyalgia, arthritis and back pain.