Dealing with chronic pain

The Dr. Linda Mintle Show

Dr. Linda Mintle is a licensed marriage and family therapist, a licensed clinical social worker and national expert on relationships and the psychology of food, weight and body image.

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Have you ever dealt with chronic pain and needed some relief? If so, you aren’t alone. The Institute of Medicine estimates that at least 100 million adults suffer from chronic pain. That includes more people than those who have cancer, diabetes and heart disease combined!

Chronic pain typically originates from injury or disease but can also be from an unknown source. Too often, pain medications are prescribed in order to help people cope with pain. Yet these medications can be addictive and don’t work well for chronic pain. And in some cases, prescribed medications can actually worsen chronic pain.

Chronic pain persists long after the pain site is healed because the brain rewires itself to change pain perception. But the perception of pain can be altered. With chronic pain, your brain continues to produce pain, but the brain can be retrained.

Since our reactions to pain are both physical and emotional, psychological treatments can help. Here are a few tips to decrease the intensity of chronic pain apart from the use of medications:

Attention to pain makes it worse.

The first tip is to distract yourself from the pain. Distraction is highly effective in reducing pain.

How you think about pain can worsen it.

If you believe you have the capacity to function and manage pain, you will. Confidence improves functioning. If you believe your future and functioning depends on others like physicians and medications, this perceived lack of control will worsen your pain. The key is to self-regulate your thoughts and stay positive.

Expectations have much to do with how you experience pain.

If you expect to recover from pain, you most likely will, but if your expectations are that the pain is serious and debilitating, you can turn mild pain into severe pain. So look at your expectations and make them positive. God can give you the power to cope with pain. Call on Him to help walk you through the pain. He is an ever present help in times of trouble.

Negative emotions can reduce the body’s natural painkillers and worsen pain.

So hanging on to anger, upset, bitterness, etc. amplifies pain. Depression can lead to pain and pain can make depression worse. Don’t allow negativity to drive your life. Instead, stay optimistic and hang on to hope in order to curb pain.

Fear of pain can be more disabling than pain itself.

Fear leads to catastrophic thinking and worsens pain. Fear and avoidance are especially problematic so stop the cycle of avoidance and gradually re-engage in activities. Exercise actually helps pain. Talk to your doctor about gradually re-engaging with people and more activities.

The bottom line is this: The perception of pain is in the brain. Change your brain and the pain changes.

Dealing with chronic pain

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