Pain is our body’s natural response to protect us from harm. The nervous system sends signals to the brain when a part of the body is in danger, alerting us to deal with the threat immediately. In some cases, the feeling of pain lasts longer than expected. Chronic pain refers to when the feeling of pain persists for three months or longer. It may linger after the injury or illness that caused it has been resolved, or it may not appear to have a cause or physical evidence. It can sometimes continue indefinitely with no cure. An estimated 3.24 million Australians are affected by chronic pain. This condition can make many areas of day-to-day life a challenge. This post explores the role of psychology in managing chronic pain.
Traditional treatments often focus on physical approaches, such as using medication to reduce pain, physical therapy or surgery. However, it has recently been recognised that more effective chronic pain management also looks at factors beyond physical pain. For instance, those with chronic pain often develop psychological and emotional symptoms like depression, anxiety and stress as a result. There are a range of psychological therapies that are commonly used in holistic approaches to pain management. Here are some examples.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
CBT is considered one of the most effective ways to address the distress, depression or anxiety linked to chronic pain, as well as provide coping strategies to reduce the experience of pain itself. CBT usually involves identifying and challenging negative thought patterns about one’s pain, then changing them to more realistic, positive outcomes.
A mindfulness-based approach can help one to differentiate their emotions and thoughts from the sensation of pain. This approach draws on techniques such as meditation. It includes paying close attention to pain in the body without judgement, and ultimately increasing acceptance and decreasing distress around the present experience of pain.
These methods are focused around reducing tension in the body, which helps to lessen feelings of anxiety as well as relieving physical pain. Such techniques consist of several different approaches, such as breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation exercises and visualisation of relaxing or calming imagery.
In addition to receiving professional therapies, there are many other things that can be done to actively self-manage the experience of chronic pain:
Exercising and staying active
Though keeping still can be a relief from pain, it is important to keep yourself motivated to move and avoid deconditioning effects such as weakened muscles.
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle
Daily habits such as improving your sleep schedule and ensuring good nutrition from your diet are helpful in pain management.
Support from family and friends is valuable as it can positively impact your mental health and build resilience to pain.
So, there are many factors to consider in chronic pain management, and a holistic approach can be beneficial for coping with the experience of pain on the way to recovery. By finding out which methods work best for your situation, you can continue to engage in an enjoyable life that is not compromised by chronic pain.
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Psychological Approaches To Pain Management. Australian Pain Management Association. Retrieved 8 June 2021, from https://www.painmanagement.org.au/resources/managing-pain/living-with-pain/177-psychological-approaches-to-pain-management.html
Managing chronic pain: How psychologists can help with pain management. (2013). American Psychological Association. Retrieved 8 June 2021, from https://www.apa.org/topics/pain/management