Have you ever taken a vacation and had your pain improve, only to have it come back as soon as you get back to your normal routine? The areas of the brain responsible processing pain share some common real estate with our emotional centers. As a result, treatment of pain can’t just consist of treating the body. This overlap between pain and emotion complicates treatment, but it doesn’t have to be a roadblock to pain-free living. Rather, it can present a powerful path to more complete and meaningful healing.
“Studies have shown that chronic pain might not only be caused by physical injury but also by stress and emotional issues,” says Dr. Susanne Babbel, a psychologist specializing in trauma and depression, in Psychology Today. This concept has been understood in the abstract for ages. Recently, however, some of the underlying mechanisms have come to be better understood and more effective treatments for the emotional component of pain have resulted.
First, a little about pain in general. Pain is an interpretation by the brain, based on many inputs: mechanical, nociceptive (related to noxious stimuli), those related to the limbic system (emotions) and others. There is even a neurologic pathway dedicated to pain memory (the spinomesencephalic tract). If you alter the inputs, you can alter the pain. Every emotion in your body has physical consequences. This is normal. Sometimes they’re ones you notice, sometimes not. Stress, anxiety, grief, anger, etc. These all come with physical consequences. This is not to say that the pain is necessarily caused by emotional sources originally. As your nervous system constantly reorganizes seeking more effective compensation for its dysfunctions, unrelated emotions can become related to existing physical issues. Once this happens, their fates are tied. You’ll find it difficult to permanently resolve one without treating the other. But not only does every emotion have physical consequences, but nearly every physical problem (aside from brand new ones) has associated emotional dysfunctions. It’s just how we compensate. Effective treatment breaks these ties, allowing both the physical and emotional to be cleared more completely. The method I use for this is one of my own creation, based in part on several different existing systems out there, including Cellular Release Technique and P-DTR.
A person in pain can receive complete relief from their symptoms from any number of therapies, then have their symptoms return or even worsen just because they have a stressful day, or have a fight with their spouse, or talk to their parents. I can have someone testing really well on the table, then watch everything shut down just because they think about work. This is all super common. In session, I find probably 80-95% of dysfunctional patterns have related emotional components that need clearing. Some more, some a little bit less. Clearing these emotions is painless, non-traumatic and so non-invasive it often doesn’t even require discussion of the underlying emotions. Often, clearing the emotions resolves the pain. At the very least, it frees the pain up to be treated via other methods.
An interesting experiment is to think of something that is stressful, or upsetting, or something you know to be an issue for you. Now, pay attention to where you feel that in your body. This will clue you in to some of those physical consequences I was talking about. Awareness goes a long way in the healing process. Recognizing the role your emotional state plays in your pain an important step in this process. When you’re ready to take the next, I’ll be here.