Fact or Myth: Is Chronic Pain Just In Your Head?

This is a FACT.

Relief from chronic pain seems to be out of reach for many. Doctors are looking at the mechanics of chronic pain – what causes it and why – and have determined that the pain response may very well be linked to how your brain is processing pain.

How Chronic Pain Works

The Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine recently released a study on chronic pain in Nature Neuroscience. The research focused on the communication between two sections of the brain – the frontal cortex [area that dictates problem-solving] and the nucleus accumbens [the portion of the brain responsible for telling the brain how to react to outside influences].

It is the relationship between these areas that determines if an injury will heal without further problems or if it will heal with chronic pain.

During the study, 40 participants with recent back injuries were evaluated. Researchers were able to predict their chronic pain relief probability with an accuracy rate of 85%.

A. Vania Apakarian, professor of physiology at Northwestern explained, “The injury by itself is not enough to explain the ongoing pain. It has to do with the injury combined with the state of the brain.”

According to the National Academy of Sciences, chronic pain costs $600 billion annually. chronic pain relief

Rather than a physical cause, it is how we react emotionally that determines if chronic pain will result. Apakarian noted, “It may be that these sections of the brain are more excited to begin with in certain individuals, or there may be genetic and environmental influences that predispose these brain regions to interact at an excitable level.”

Chronic Pain and Depression

Dr. Chantal Berna and his team at the University of Oxford found that chronic pain is a mixture of mind and body. The Oxford study examined the link between depression and pain and discovered that subjects who were depressed felt pain more acutely.

“When the healthy people were made sad by negative thoughts and depressing music, we found that their brains processed pain more emotionally, which lead to them finding the pain more unpleasant,” said Dr. Berna.

Pain is amplified by negative thoughts and sadness. Figuring out the exact chemical or physiological reaction that links the two is the next phase of research.

Chronic pain affects more than 100 million people in the United States.

The theory is still ahead of the science and it could be years before scientists discover how to use what they’ve learned to offer chronic pain relief that works. In the meantime, it is important to manage your chronic pain to achieve the maximum results that help you maintain or improve your quality of life.

Top 3 Tips to Manage Your Chronic Pain
  1. Stay busy! When you remain isolated or dwell on the negativity of your pain or your current circumstance it can absorb your entire focus and can make you feel even worse. By doing activities you enjoy or simply interacting with other positive-minded people, you take your mind off your pain and take back control of your life.
  2. Relax your mind! Meditation and deep breathing have been proven to lower heart rate and stress, which can lead to depression, chronic fatigue and anxiety. Stress causes an inflammatory response in your body that can aggravate chronic pain relief. Taking up yoga, getting a massage and practicing mentally controlling your pain have helped many who suffer with chronic pain.
  3. Love your body! Exercise regularly to improve strength and flexibility, and get plenty of rest and eat foods abundant in antioxidants. Antioxidants boost your immune system and energy level while lowering inflammation. Avoid alcohol and smoking – both increase your risk for many diseases and have been proven to exacerbate chronic pain.

Natural chronic pain relief may be as close as your kitchen! Antioxidant-rich foods help to lubricate joints, minimize inflammation, mop up free radicals that cause oxidation and stimulate your immune system. Here are the top five antioxidants that may help you naturally and effectively manage your pain.

Top 5 Antioxidants to Fight Chronic Pain

    1. Omega-3s – found in salmon, mackerel and sardines, omega-3 fatty acids help fight inflammation and keep joints moving freely.
    2. Quercetin – found in onions, red wine, broccoli and apples, quercetin fights inflammation and strengthens your immune system.
    3. Carotenoids – found in sweet potatoes, papaya, carrots and red peppers, carotenoids also minimize inflammation and boost your immune system.
    4. Anthocyanins – found in blueberries, this tiny fruit is one of the highest antioxidant-rich foods available and actively “mops up” free radicals that trigger inflammation.
    5. Sulfur compounds – found in onions and garlic, sulfuric compounds are highest in these vegetables, which stimulate T-helper cells that boosts your immune system.

Avoid high fat, high cholesterol foods that tend to provoke inflammation. Also limit your intake of animal products such as meat and dairy.

How your brain processes pain may be the mechanics. That does not mean your pain doesn’t exist. Learning how to manage chronic pain relief will help you get your life back. You are more than your pain – you are limitless possibilities.