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Perception really is everything when it comes to pain

Pain is real. You only have to feel it to know it. But how much you feel that pain, the degree to which it saps your spirit and erodes your quality of life, is influenced by your mood to a great degree.

Pain and the perception of pain, is complex. It’s more than just physical nerve stimulation. It’s also mental and emotional. There is a reciprocal relationship between mood and pain. Anything that affects your mood can heighten the perceived severity of your pain, just as pain can darken your mood. Stress, fatigue, depression, and anxiety are all amplifiers for pain.

Take this study from 2008 of 76 patients who were seeking medical treatment for persistent back pain at hospital outpatient pain clinics in London, UK. The authors set out to determine if experimentally induced depressed and happy moods changed perceived pain at rest and pain tolerance.

In short, they did. Results indicated that depressed and happy moods altered the reported level of pain and actual pain tolerance in chronic pain patients.

An induced depressed mood resulted in significantly higher pain ratings at rest and lower pain tolerance. A happy mood, on the other hand, resulted in significantly lower pain ratings at rest and greater pain tolerance.

The study proved, albeit with a relatively small test group, what most of us have long assumed to be true from observing our patients – a depressed mood can increase the extent to which chronic pain disables you.

As Chiropractors, we can address the physical cause of pain arising from misalignments of your spine. What we can’t do is address your emotional state. That’s up to you. The happier you are, the more positive your mood and outlook on life, the more effective your spinal rehabilitation will be. The less your pain will hinder you. Other studies have found this same reciprocal relationship with those suffering from other conditions, like cancer and arthritis.

Your mental, even spiritual, health is just as important as your physical. If you suffer from negative moods, consider what you can to do change them. Regular exercise is a great place to start. Also, consider what are the key stressors in your life – how can you take control to eliminate, escape, or mitigate them?

Remember, the most important person in your life must be you. You can’t be there for others, you can’t take care of others in a positive way, unless you’ve taken care of yourself, first.

We have many connections throughout the Kanata community with Personal Trainers, Psychologists, Pastors and Priests, and other wellness professionals who can help you feel better and be better. If you would like a referral, please don’t hesitate to ask.

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