Pain: how much is in the mind?

A study by Luis Buenaver and colleagues published in the June edition of Pain has shown some fascinating links between pain, thinking and sleep. It’s already known that about 80% of people with chronic pain experience troubled sleep and that poor sleep increases pain sensitivity. It is also known that pain catastrophizing is a contributor to chronic pain. Catastrophizing is a combination of rumination and negative thinking. What Buenaver and his colleagues discovered was a direct link between pain catastrophizing, poor sleep and worsening pain…a vicious cycle…the more often you think negatively about your pain experience…the more your sleep is disrupted…the worse your pain becomes…which in turn adversely affects your thoughts, etc.



Another piece of research published in this month’s Current Biology by Christian Sprenger et al. demonstrates that mental distraction techniques can decrease pain sensations by inhibiting incoming pain signals in the spinal cord. The effect was found to be partly mediated by endorphins.

In essence, people with chronic pain can improve their sleep and comfort by choosing to focus on pleasant activities or goals rather than brood gloomily over their pain.

To change the way we feel we must change the way we think!

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