I’ve talked extensively about — and probably bored many people in the process — of my readings on the topic of the mind-body connections to pain. Of particular interest is been the work of Dr. John Sarno. His books, and others in the same vein, indicate that tens of thousands of people (at least) have found significant pain reduction using efforts to calm the mind. These efforts include meditation, journaling, and psychoanalysis.
It’s compelling reading, but of course I’m always thinking, “If this is so great, why don’t I hear more about it?” That may be changing — today’s Wall Street Journal has an op-ed on the topic of treating pain from a mind-body perspective.
How you think about pain can have a major impact on how it feels.
That’s the intriguing conclusion neuroscientists are reaching as scanning technologies let them see how the brain processes pain.
That’s also the principle behind many mind-body approaches to chronic pain that are proving surprisingly effective in clinical trials.
Some are as old as meditation, hypnosis and tai chi, while others are far more high tech. In studies at Stanford University’s Neuroscience and Pain Lab, subjects can watch their own brains react to pain in real-time and learn to control their response—much like building up a muscle. When subjects focused on something distracting instead of the pain, they had more activity in the higher-thinking parts of their brains. When they “re-evaluated” their pain emotionally—”Yes, my back hurts, but I won’t let that stop me”—they had more activity in the deep brain structures that process emotion. Either way, they were able to ease their own pain significantly, according to a study in the journal Anesthesiology last month.
I would say this pain reevaluation technique described above has been my most successful tool in fighting my hand and forearm pain.