People who share similar conditions such as knee arthritis or other joint problems experience chronic pain differently, even if they are at the same level of physical deterioration. Research on pain has revealed that the old model of chronic pain taught by medical schools and believed by most doctors is no longer accurate.
The old thinking about chronic joint pain is that the joint sends pain messengers to the spinal cord which then relays them to the brain, where the brain registers pain. Most leading neuroscientists today believe that the brain registers the arrival of the messengers from affected tissue in the body and then adds its own opinion, based on the thoughts of the individual. More than one area of the brain is involved in this process.
Chronic pain also is experienced differently by men and women, and is affected by the hormones of the menstrual cycle. There are also small changes in one or two genes that can make a huge difference in the way different people perceive and experience the same level of pain. You won’t experience pain in exactly the same way as your wife or husband or co-worker, says neuroscientist Dr. Jon-Kar Zubieta of the University of Michigan.
Your fear, anger, anxiety, depression, hopelessness, negative expectation and chronic stress create chemicals in the brain that make it more likely that you will be caught in a loop of chronic pain.
On the other hand, positive expectations, pleasurable experiences, relaxation, acceptance, meditation, and cognitive training make a great difference in the experience of pain, thanks to differences in the chemicals your brain produces. There have been studies showing that positive expectations can reduce the experience of pain equivalent to the administration of narcotic pain relievers.
This is why leading researchers on pain these days recommend programs like Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Training – ways to retrain the way the brain thinks – as one of the most important things you can do to reduce pain. Often, this type of training can be successful in two or three sessions and so is low-cost, as well as being effective and safe.
What is your best strategy for managing chronic pain?