Pain – is it all in the mind?

When was the last time you had a throbbing pain, an ache or discomfort?  

Unfortunately, it is unavoidable, each one of us will experience some form of pain at one time or another. If you are anything like me, you may even think of yourself as having a very low pain threshold. But what happens when we suffer greatly, with chronic pain, or injury or prolonged pain through illness or even childbirth. How is the mind involved in pain? Does the mind increase the pain and is it also able to reduce it?

From my life experience I’ve always known about the psychological influence on pain. Particularly so through working with people from all walks of life and teaching them self hypnosis, I am happy to tell you that the feedback has been eye-opening, to say the least. Having learned self-hypnosis many people later reported reduction in pain, while they were in an altered state of hypnosis. Pain became more manageable to deal with, in particular during childbirth, at the dentists having dental work done, or during various medical procedures. So the mind is involved in reducing the pain. That is reassuring isn’t it. We have long suspected that there is so much more to us than we allow ourselves to believe possible. Our mind is capable of switching off pain signals and altering our experience of pain. But is the mind involved in amplifying the pain as well?

These questions are now being explored and researched in greater detail. Recently information has surfaced about the use of virtual reality to help ease pain.

It has been reported that the agony from severe burns can be one of the most intense and prolonged types of pain anyone will experience. And for many, the rehabilitation treatment is as painful as the initial burn. Ouch!!!

Burn patients in the US are apparently being helped to escape the pain of their burn injuries by being immersed in virtual reality during treatment. In a very classical “mind over matter” manoeuvre the mind is helped to switch it’s focus elsewhere and the pain is not registered.

BBC UK program Horizon, reported on The Secret World of Pain and the latest development of virtual reality computerised game to help burn patients “escape pain” while undergoing treatment.

Scientists have found many different elements can affect how we experience pain, including our emotions, environment, context and distractions.

“Because pain has such a strong psychological component to it, psychological treatments can be used to counteract the pain,” said Prof Hoffman.

“Because humans are so visually dominant wherever you’re looking typically that’s where your attention is focused.”

“(For patients) during wound care, when they’re getting their bandages changed, they’re looking at these different tools that the nurses are using to treat them, and just looking at those objects makes them anxious.”

“There are other studies showing you feel less pain during music or watching movies, but this (virtual reality game) takes it to a much more stronger level, because it’s so immersive.”