I’m sure you have heard this before: The mind is able to control the body. For the chronic pain patient who may have seemingly exhausted all treatment options, the notion of mind over matter becomes hugely appealing.
When there is some sort of injury or insult causing pain, the signal conveying pain travels to the brain via a sensory pathway and an emotional pathway. The emotional aspect of the experience of pain travels to the parts of the brain known as the amygdale and the anterior cingulated cortex. The mind-body treatments that involve such activities as hypnosis, meditation and relaxation likely affect these emotional networks.
Researchers have used functional magnetic resonance imaging (FMRI) to allow chronic pain patients to “visualise” pain. These images allow a patient to actively participate in manipulating what has previously been an amorphous concept. The chronic pain patient becomes empowered, whether it be through hypnosis, yoga, biofeedback, or meditation.
Any such coping technique for chronic pain often can begin with controlled deep breathing:
1. It is best to be in a relaxed position in a dark or dimly lit room, with eyes closed or focused on a point.
2. Breathe deeply, while continuing to focus.
3. Continue with controlled breathing for a few minutes.
4. If you sense this control of respirations is allowing for a slowing down of breathing, then try a particular imagery technique.
Examples of imagery and chronic pain control techniques include:
1. Focus on a non-painful body part, and see whether this diverts the mind away from focusing on, say, chronic back pain.
2. Mentally separate the painful body part from the remainder of the body; use dissociation to keep the pain away.
3. Divide different sensations of pain into separate parts: If a patient feels burning associated with pain, he or she might find it helpful to focus solely on the burning sensation, and not on the pain by using such sensory splitting.
4. Imagine a numbing injection of some miraculous medicine.
5. “Travel” back in time, when the patient was pain free.
6. Imagine a symbol for one’s chronic pain, for example, a loud noise; turn the volume down, and reduce the pain.
7. Use positive imagery to focus on something pleasant.
8. Count silently to divert the mind from the chronic pain.
These tasks seem silly to some; or at best, self-evident. But for some chronic pain patients, they do help. A professional may be needed during the learning process; and it may take practice before these techniques can have a highly positive and beneficial impact on the chronic pain patient. Such a patient should work on these pain coping mental exercises at least 30 minutes three times a week.
You know you are doing good when you can reduce pain and increase relaxation with a few deep breaths. The sense of control that accompanies such mastery in and of itself can be responsible for a significant reduction in chronic pain.
When have you experienced a lack of pain when you would have expected to feel it or do you know someone who uses this or some other method to manage chronic pain?
I’d love to hear about your experiences.