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Psychology of Pain

Table of Contents

In addition to the physical sensations of pain, there are psychological factors that may come into play. Pain is a very individual experience that is subjective. Everyone has a different tolerance to pain and patients cope with it in different ways. People’s beliefs about pain and the coping mechanisms they use play a role in their overall experience. When pain is chronic and/or progressive in nature, this can make it very difficult for patients to get through their lives without some psychological distress.

Psychological Effects of Pain

Pain that is persistent over a long period of time can make a person fearful, anxious and depressed. Fears about re-injury or worsening pain can make a person avoid activity. Chronic pain sufferers who get little or no physical activity can experience a worsening of pain, which can further the negative feelings and emotions. This can affect a person’s career, hobbies, interests and relationships. Depression and anxiety, coupled with chronic pain, can cause people to withdraw. If they become less physically active, muscles can waste away and people can either lose or gain weight. As this problem escalates, people may begin to believe that they are disabled and that they cannot be active. This can spiral, fueling the pain and making it difficult for them to find relief.
If people don’t have a definitive diagnosis for their pain or are unable to find adequate relief, they may begin to feel as if the pain is “all in their head.” Unfortunately, there are many conditions that cause chronic pain. Some of them are not diagnosed easily because symptoms mirror those of other disorders. People may feel that their pain is not real and this can cause further stress.

Treatment Options

Chronic pain can be treated through various approaches including medication, physical therapy and holistic practices such as acupuncture, massage, yoga and bio/neuro-feedback. Treating the psychological aspect is very important to help people cope. This can also help some patients to lessen their pain. Psychotherapy has proven very helpful for many people. Cognitive behavioral therapy can help patients sort through their negative feelings and emotions surrounding their pain. It can also help them to regain their lives in other ways. Patients who modify their thoughts about pain may also find ways to re-engage in activities. An increase in productivity can help with the pain and helps to boost confidence.
Cognitive behavioral therapy can help people restructure their thoughts and feelings about pain but has other possible advantages. Many people who suffer chronic pain and depression or anxiety have trouble sleeping. Cognitive behavioral therapy may be able to help people relax and find ways to unwind, get to sleep and stay asleep. This therapy can also help patients with anger and stress management. Because chronic pain is so complex, it needs to be addressed with a multidisciplinary approach that includes psychotherapy.

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