Pain is an experience that we are all familiar with. Although unwanted, it plays an important role in drawing our attention to the source of physical discomfort or injury, so that it can be addressed. However, sometimes pain seems to outlast this function and stay on without apparent reason. Dealing with this sort of chronic pain can be a battle. In some cases, a medical examination can help assess and diagnose the physical cause of the pain. However, sometimes physical factors are unidentifiable or unable to account for the duration and intensity of the pain being experienced. In these cases, a thorough psychological evaluation might be recommended in order to understand the emotional factors that could be causing or exacerbating the pain. But is there really a psychological aspect of pain?
Pain used to be understood as a purely physical sensation. However, over the years, it has been recognised that pain is influenced by a number of psychosocial factors including emotions, social and environmental context, sociocultural background, the meaning of pain to the person, beliefs, attitudes, expectations, as well as biological factors. It is thus a combination of these physical, emotional and social factors that serve to cause, increase or maintain chronic pain. In turn, the experience of chronic pain also causes anger, sadness and anxiety, and impacts our social functioning. Therefore treatment requires an addressal of not only the organic source, but also the other psychosocial factors involved in the experience of pain.
Many medical treatments like medication, surgery or physical therapy help treat chronic pain. But we must remember that psychological treatment is also an important part of pain management. We need to understand and develop coping strategies to better manage the thoughts, emotions and behaviors that we experience along with pain.
If you’re dealing with chronic pain, here are some tips you can try:
Don’t let your pain hold you back. Set realistic expectations for yourself and stay involved in the things you love. Do not push yourself beyond what you can handle physically.
Low-impact exercise like stretching, swimming or yoga can help keep your body fit without causing additional pain. Find out what exercises work for you, and engage in them regularly.
In times of distress, social support is important. Talk to people you are close with. Research shows that it can make you more resilient and less likely to experience depression and anxiety.
Engaging in other activities can distract you from your pain. Make sure you have a list of activities that you enjoy, to try out when the pain occurs. Anything from watching a movie to participating in a local club can help.
Stay On Track
If you’re following a regular physical routine or medication, follow it religiously. Unplanned changes can have harmful consequences. Do not alter or discontinue your treatment routine without consulting your doctor or therapist first.