Pain (acute and chronic) and how to survive it
It may seem counter-intuitive, but pain isn't something you experience in your body when it is hurt, nor is the amount of pain you feel directly related to the extent of the injury you have sustained. Pain is an experience created in your brain and its intensity is adjusted by your brain by taking other information into account. Pain has both a sensory and an emotional component, if you are emotionally frail you are likely to suffer more intensely from the same injury or infection than a person who is emotionally more robust. Psychotherapy can help to strengthen your emotional health, and therefore it can help you reduce the anguish you have to endure from your dis-ease.
Acute pain is useful, it focuses your attention on an injury or a disease, it says this part of your body is hurt, it encourages you to nurse it to prevent the damage getting worse and stimulates your brain to promote healing. It is usually responsive to adequate amounts of analgesia, and once you have stopped doing things that make the damage worse, your pain often settles down and becomes bearable, eventually disappearing altogether when your injury has healed.
Chronic pain, (pain you have had for more than three months which is there for no apparent reason) has no merit. You may feel this kind of pain in a limb that isn’t there, long after it has been amputated. There is evidence that this pain is “learned” by the same mechanism by which you learn new knowledge. It can persist for many years and tends to be resistant to analgesics, causing distress and decimating your quality of life.
Recent studies have shown that one in every three people over the age of 50 suffers from medically unexplained chronic pain. If you are one of these people the good news is that, although physical therapy cannot help alleviate your pain, because there is no identifiable damage to your body, psychological therapy can help you to “unlearn” your chronic pain, and so reduce your suffering. Conscientiously working on a range of techniques with your therapist has been shown to weaken the grip of the pain experience and because of that reducing the devastating and debilitating effect that medically unexplained chronic pain can have on your life.
About the author
David Peak is a registered and accredited psychotherapist now in private practice but with 16 years previous experience. He is interested in PTSD and chronic pain, amongst other distressing conditions, and uses a range of techniques drawn from a number of psychotherapeutic models, including EMDR, tailored specifically to his clients' needs.
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