For the first part of our lives, pain is a relatively straightforward issue. You fall and scrape your knee, you feel pain, your Mom ‘kisses it better’, puts a bandage on, and it’s back out to play for you.
That direct line between cause, sensation and relief can make it difficult for us to understand the physical pain we sometimes feel as adults. First, The scraped knee is a case of acute pain, which is temporary. But much of the pain we experience as adults, like back and neck pain and muscle aches, can be ongoing, or chronic pain.
The second difference between acute pain, that has a clear physical cause, and chronic pain is that chronic pain can affect, and be affected, by a sufferer’s mental health.
The Definition of Pain
Based at least in part on our early understanding of pain, it can be a stretch for us to make the connection between the physical pain we feel and the fact that it might be caused by a mental or emotional issue.
To get a better appreciation of chronic pain and its causes, its helpful to have a clear definition of pain. Not long after the organization was founded, the International Association for the Study of Pain defined pain as:
“an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage, or described in terms of such damage.”
The Causes of Chronic Pain
Considering it can result from mental or physical issues, or a combination of the two, it’s not always easy to understand the causes of chronic pain. Chronic ailments, like arthritis, cancer or diabetes can all cause chronic pain. So too can physical problems like poor posture and repetitive strain injuries.
The mental and emotional conditions that are linked to chronic pain often play both a ‘cause and effect’ role in the experience of pain. For example, the stress of chronic pain can exacerbate the symptoms of depression, and depression can produce ongoing physical pain symptoms, including muscle tension and headaches.
While you may be able to make the connection between a bout of depression and a headache, sometimes you may not be conscious of the fact that the physical experience of pain can be produced by a psychological issue. The unconscious transference of mental health issue into physical pain symptoms is known as somatization.
Those who suffer chronic pain with no apparent physical cause may be diagnosed with somatic symptom disorder.
Managing Chronic Pain
With a cause that might be rooted in physical and/or mental issues, you may need physical and/or psychological strategies to help you cope with chronic pain.
Physical activities, including exercise, socializing and hobbies, and physical treatments including massage therapy and physical therapy, can all help to manage chronic pain.
Even if it’s difficult to understand that chronic pain may be at least in part due to emotional issues, a psychological assessment to evaluate your chronic pain can help you decide if psychotherapeutic treatment may be worth exploring.
If you would like to learn more about managing chronic pain symptoms, please contact us here at BRCook Psychological Services and schedule an appointment.
I am a certified solution-focused therapist, and I integrate a number of theoretical orientations into my practice including cognitive-behavioural, humanistic, psychodynamic, reality focused therapy. In essence, my experience and style have been dynamically moved into an eclectic approach that best seems to fit the client and their personal needs.