Are you experiencing pain or worried about pain? Can worrying about pain cause pain? Often, people notice that when they think about pain, they start to experience it. We're going to try to answer this question: are your thoughts actually causing you to experience some of the pain you're feeling?
Can Worrying About Pain Cause Pain? Let's Find Out
Pain is interesting because there's still a lot of research that is going into it and how your brain impacts pain. Interestingly, there are reports from battlefields where people were severely injured and didn't feel it.
For example, some medics report helping gather soldiers from the field and being injured in the process.
At the moment, the person didn't feel the pain. Pain only seemed to creep in when the person slowed down and broke free from the task that they were completing. From the onset, it appears that thinking about pain impacts how we perceive it.
What scientists believe is that the body interprets pain through two main systems:
- One system will control the feeling of pain, location, and intensity.
- Another system will connect the emotional sensation of pain.
If you've ever stubbed your toe and said "ow" even though it didn't really hurt, this is an emotional response connecting what you perceive as pain to the actual stubbing of the toe.
Based on these facts, it seems as if worrying may, at the very least, increase our perception of pain to some degree. However, there's also evidence that when a person reacts calmly to pain, they can minimize the pain they're experiencing.
One study on low-frequency brain waves brought clarity to the concept of worrying about panic causing pain. The study did a few things:
- Focused on brain activity responsible for feeling sensations
- Low-frequency rhythms
For example, the participants were asked to focus on either their hands or feet during the study. When they focused on their hands, they were able to increase the rhythms in the brain that respond to sensations in their feet.
However, what the study found (and no one expected) was that the other areas of the brain started to show low-frequency increases.
What does this mean?
The brain can filter out sensory information. Ultimately, researchers believe that people can learn to block their own chronic pain through meditation or other methods.
So, based on this study, it's plausible to assume that if you stop worrying about pain, you might be able to control it.
Pain and the Brain's Wiring
Pain perception is tied directly to your thoughts. Coghlan suggests that people with chronic pain may suffer from different wiring in the brain. To demonstrate this, one study took images of the brain when participants were in pain.
As the researchers hypothesized, the thalamus in the brain was activated in all participants when they experienced pain.
However, the participants that experienced pain most intensely also showed:
- Activity outside of the thalamus
- Activity in the area of the brain known for emotion
Emotion played a major role in how the participants in the study experienced pain. However, just thinking that you're not in pain may not stop you from experiencing it. There is a theory that some individuals with chronic pain have actually rewired their brains.
Even when pain isn't occurring physically, some people still experience it because their brain is altered to the point that it doesn't act like an average person's brain would.
An additional study on pain monitored the brain's signals when it was experiencing a pain stimulus. Participants in the study were taught to relax pain levels when they rose by speaking to themselves.
Essentially, the individuals in this final study were able to control their brains and keep their pain levels low.
Worrying may not have been the focal point of these studies, but the studies all dealt with emotion. Participants that assumed the pain would be worse all felt pain differently. So, the worrying of pain may actually be a pain trigger that's causing a person to feel chronic pain.
Unfortunately, we're not taught to control pain in school.
Instead, the best you can do is try and find ways to cease worrying to help alleviate the pain you're experiencing, such as using positive affirmations, meditation techniques, or essential oils that can help with both stress and pain.
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This means with just one quick and easy application you're taking care of your body and your mind and can get right back to what matters most, worry-free.