Case Study

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Something interesting happened last week whilst I was treating a client. He was referred to me a few weeks back because of hip pain. About 18 months ago a car knocked him off his bicycle and he landed on his right side, after which he immediately noticed right hip pain.

He has been gradually improving with treatment…so far nothing remarkable but during our last session he mentioned that the travel anxiety he had experienced (I didn’t know he had anxiety) since the accident had also been getting better. He said that the anxiety was lessening as the pain decreased…wow!

What could explain the connection between the hip pain and the travel anxiety? Well, to answer that we need to go back in time to a famous psychological experiment…Pavlov’s dogs…ring any bells? In his experiment, Pavlov rang a bell before feeding dogs. After a while he noticed that the dogs would salivate at the sound of the bell…without the presence of food! The dogs had associated the sound of the bell with food. This process is called conditioning. It takes a while to establish itself and dissociating the bell from food can extinguish it i.e. if you stop feeding the dogs after ringing the bell, they’ll soon stop salivating when they hear it. A similar phenomenon can take place almost instantly during significant emotional events. Sights, sounds, smells and others sensations can unconsciously become associated with the event.¬†Emotionally traumatic experiences can create phobias…amongst other things. A phobia is an irrational fear of an object or situation.

In this case the fear or anxiety is linked to the client seeing cyclists among circulating vehicles. Presumably, in these circumstances, the hip pain has also become a trigger for the emotional response. Therefore, it’s no longer surprising that as the pain has decreased with treatment, so has the emotional response to cyclists.

Fascinating isn’t it? The complexity and beauty of the mind-body connection never ceases to amaze!