Pain x Thoughts & Beliefs

I meet a lot of people who suffer from chronic pain. Most of them have been to chiropractors & PTs & other bodyworkers, and have been told the root of their pain is biomechanical — it’s a slipped disc, or a tight psoas, or ‘bad’ posture.

But here’s the truth about pain: all pain is in the brain. Even when the cause of the pain is obvious, like a burn on your skin, it’s still your brain that is producing the experience, not your skin (or even the nerves in your skin).

Because pain comes from the brain, there are a lot of factors that influence our experience of pain, like our thoughts & beliefs and our overall sense of safety. Some things we do with our mind that that make pain worse are:

  • Obsessing over it • Every time we think the same thought about our pain, repeat the same movement that makes it hurt, or focus exclusively on the part of our body that hurts & ignore what feels neutral or good, we are deepening the habitual groove for that pain experience, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.

  • Believing we’re broken • When we believe that our pain is incurable or unavoidable (i.e. “my back hurts because I have a slipped disc” or “my knees hurt because I’m getting too old/fat”) it can elicit feelings of fear or hopelessness, which shuts down our ability to be curious, creative & resourceful about resolving the issue.

  • Fearing it • Feeling fearful about how ‘damaged’ we are activates our stress response, which can make pain worse (or, at least, reduce our ability to cope with it.) Also, when we protect or ‘baby’ the spot that hurts because we’re afraid to move it, we rob ourselves of one of the best pain medicines — movement!

  • Ignoring it • When the stress & discomfort of pain becomes overwhelming, our reflex might be to dissociate, numb, or distract ourselves from it. This can provide temporary relief when we need to focus our attention elsewhere, and it’s sometimes necessary if we’re to avoid obsessing. But ultimately, whether there’s tissue damage or not, pain is a message that something in our body needs our attention.

Rather than obsessing, fearing, or ignoring our pain, we can resolve it by staying present, open / non-judgmental, & curious, and by trusting our body’s inherent wisdom.