Chronic pain is pain that lasts beyond the time expected for healing following surgery, trauma or other condition, or it can exist without any clear reason at all. Left untreated, chronic pain can have a devastating impact on all aspects of people’s lives – such as sleep, sex, work, exercise and routine self-care. It can also severely impact personal relationships, social interactions and lifestyles.
Pain comes from the brain and is one of our mechanisms of protection. The brain weighs up incoming messages from the body and environment. These may include danger signals from body tissues that are under threat or damaged. The danger signals are simply chemical and electrical messages in the nervous system until the brain makes an interpretation of pain. This interpretation of pain becomes more likely when danger messages outweigh safety messages.
Why is my doctor telling me to see a psychologist when I am in pain?
Chronic pain is a multifaceted problem and as such is needs a multi-faceted approach. Medication alone is rarely sufficient to help people manage chronic pain.
A whole body approach to pain management is recommended. This includes:
- Biology – this includes medications, nerve blocks and surgery. It may also include physical therapy such as physiotherapy and chiropractic.
- MindBody – Our thoughts and emotions have an impact on our body. Understanding how unhelpful thoughts impact our experience of pain can help. Also practicing mindfulness and knowing how to relax.
- Connection – many people with pain become disconnected from others. Re-establishing lost connections is important for pain management.
- Activity – Our actions, like our thoughts and emotions, can easily become stuck in unhelpful patterns. Learning to “reprogram” activity is an important part of the overall brain retraining strategy. The concept of pacing is relevant here.
- Nutrition – The health of our body impacts on our experience of pain. Avoiding smoking and minimising intake of caffeine and other recreational drugs is helpful. Eating more vegetables and less starchy carbohydrate reduces inflammation and nervous system sensitisation
As such people with chronic pain need a whole team to support them. And an important member of that team is a psychologist.
How can psychologist help with pain?
Psychologist can help people to learn about pain and how it works within the body. In order to treat pain we must understand why it occurs. Most people think that pain is in our body but it is actually in our brain.
This does not mean that it is all in your head or that you are making it up. It simply means that the brain plays a role in how pain is experienced in the body. And as such there are things that you can do to reduce your experience of pain.
Psychologists can assist with:
- Pain management techniques. When we are stressed, our body tenses up, which can increase our pain. Stress management and relaxation also plays an important part in teaching someone to manage their pain and to cope when their pain increases.
- Reducing depression and anxiety. These are common by product so pain and cause increased suffering
- Mindfulness techniques
- Behavioural Activation
Pain Australia have some wonderful resources to help you better understand chronic pain.
Here at Prosper Health Collective we have a number of Psychologists that are trained in helping people to manage chronic pain. Contact us now to find out more or book an appointment.