Chronic Pain And The Mind/Body Connection

Pain, depression, anxiety, and insomnia are intimately connected.

Patients have found that making behavioral changes to support a healthier lifestyle can dramatically reduce their pain and improve their mood. Changes in diet that result in weight loss can have a positive effect on back pain and arthritis. Exercise increases the level of natural painkillers produced in the brain (endorphins) and can help reduce anxiety, depression and weight as well as stress.

For many people, stress contributes to both physical and mental illness. It has been linked to migraine headaches, back pain, and peptic ulcers. Stress causes the muscles in the body to tense up and worsen the pain. Many people find pain management easier when they reduce or eliminate stress in their lives.

STRESS MANAGEMENT TECHNIQUES such as deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, autogenics, and imagery can be effective.

BIOFEEDBACK teaches patients to monitor the level of tension in the body. When used in conjunction with relaxation techniques, biofeedback can help people to manage chronic pain caused by muscle tension and spasm.

“Actually, all pain is in our heads, as the brain mediates pain signals. Even though pain is not just in our minds, we need to use our minds as part of the solution to this problem that is as old as human civilization.” -Anne-Marie Deutsch, Ph.D., psychologist.

For the past 20 years pain experts have incorporated the mind into the comprehensive treatment of pain. Success is greatly enhanced when the patient’s emotional and psychological response to pain is addressed.

Since pain is a perception, many psychologists believe that it can be modified using various psychological interventions. The goal of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is to help people change irrational thinking, misperceptions and negative thoughts. According to Anne-Marie Deutsch, Ph.D., a psychotherapist specializing in the treatment of pain, “Cognitive behavioral therapy is quite effective in reducing the intensity of pain and in reducing ‘pain behavior,’ but it needs to be continued periodically as effects have not been found to be long term.”

Hypnosis is a technique in which an individual’s susceptibility to suggestion is increased. The role of hypnosis in treating chronic pain is uncertain. Some studies have shown that 15 percent to 20 percent of hypnotizable patients can manage their pain with hypnosis. Other studies report that hypnosis reduces anxiety and depression, and therefore helps to diminish pain.


ACUPUNCTURE is an ancient method of pain and disease control discovered in China as early as 3000 B.C. This treatment involves the insertion of fine, disposable needles into tiny places on the skin called acupuncture points. The needles are sometimes twirled or accompanied by mild electrical currents or lasers.

Acupuncture is believed to regulate the flow of positive and negative energy along channels in the body called meridians. When the normal flow of energy is blocked, this Chinese theory says, physical and mental problems result until the balance is restored. Acupuncture is believed to work because it stimulates better circulation to the tissues, releases tension in the muscle surrounding the acupuncture point, and releases endorphins into the spine and brain. Acupuncture is used to treat:


MASSAGE is probably the oldest method of relieving muscle pain, swelling and stiffness. Massage relaxes tense muscles, and reduces pain by dilating the blood vessels and stimulating circulation. An increase in blood flow to muscles helps carry away the chemical by-products produced by inflammation, and thus soothes nerve endings. A study in Norway found that massage increases levels of endorphins by about 16 percent, and may help to increase serotonin as well.

MAGNET THERAPY is a billion dollar business based mostly on anecdotal evidence and very little scientific research. Advocates believe that magnets increase circulation and stimulate the body’s natural healing process. But physicist from the University of Maryland found no plausible explanation for how magnets could relieve pain and that magnet therapy is, for the most part harmless, but it is not recommended for people with pacemakers or metal implants.

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