The Mind Body Connection - in simple words
Updated: Jan 14
Have you ever gone red with embarrassment? Have you ever felt itchy after someone mentioned lice?! Have you ever had goose-bumps whilst watching a movie? Have your tears ever welled up when you remembered a deeply sad moment? (Sshh – have you ever been aroused watching an erotic scene? - I’m going red writing this…😉).
Those are all every day, perfectly normal occurrences and reactions in your body as a result of every day, normal thoughts in your mind. They are every day, perfectly normal examples of the mindbody connection.
The same applies with pain - it is another example of the mindbody connection. Normal, everyday thoughts, especially those connected with emotion, past & present, can exacerbate or even create pain felt in our body – & yes, even without any physical “damage” being present.
Pain Brain - Brain Pain
You see, all pain that we feel is the result of processing in our brain. The brain not only relies on information coming from the body (muscles, organs, etc) in order to reach its conclusion to produce pain or not - it processes that information together with emotion, current threat level, past experience, thoughts, knowledge & beliefs (Prof Lorimer Moseley, PhD). All at the speed of lightening. All the time.
If we look more closely at these other factors, you may start to see how that mindbody connection might possibly create "false" errors in its processing - leading us to "inappropriately" feel pain even when there is no damage or injury in our body...
The good news: when we know & accept the complexity behind human pain & the mindbody connection, we can better understand what our bodies may be trying to tell us - & help us in our journey to relief & recovery. Read on!
Forms of emotion are almost endless - & some of us are more aware and feel emotion more than others (mostly a result of our upbringing). But we all have them. Suppressed or not... Fear, anxiety, anger, sadness, happiness... and innumerable other descriptions & variables.
But emotion is not just an “intangible feeling”. Molecules of emotion are produced & flush throughout the body, affecting every cell (Candace B Pert, PhD), including sensitising nerves & increasing muscle tension.
You may have experienced pain increasing when you were angry or scared. But did you know that the same occurs even when emotions such as fear and anger are suppressed (“stiff upper lip”, "boys don't cry", "girls shouldn't be angry", etc)? The same emotional molecular/chemical response happens, but just without your conscious awareness. Emotion, suppressed, subconscious or not, affects pain. Particularly with longer-term pain, the emotional centre of the brain and pain are highly interrelated.
Threat Level, Stress & Pain
When you think or feel you are in danger (real or perceived), the well-known automatic fight or flight response you learnt about at school kicks in. Part of this is the production of the stress/emotional chemicals mentioned above (eg adrenaline, cortisol & histamine) - preparing you for your fight or flight for survival.
Heart rate increases, gut activity reduces, blood flow to the muscles increases at the same time it reduces to the skin, neocortex of the brain & reproductive organs, glucose stores release into the blood, salivation slows – and, as alluded to above, the speed of nerve conduction increases, including nerves involved with pain. So, threat, stress, anxiety all affect pain.
If in the past your mind has come to connect (consciously or not) a certain movement, position or event with a response (eg pain), the brain uses that information to help process a response again in the future – ie when you repeat that movement, position or event it produces pain again. And as you may expect, the more something is repeated, the more reinforced & automatic the connection becomes (eg Pavlov’s well-known dog food/bell/salivation response experiment you may also have learnt about at school).
And if you add emotion, such as fear, onto a movement, position or event, it acts to reinforce the response (eg more pain). So, past experience can produce pain even when there's nothing "wrong".
Simply put, even a thought of an emotional past experience or future fear can create the same fight or flight response and cascade of chemicals affecting every cell & organ in your body. Just a thought can thus impact the pain you feel.
Knowledge & Beliefs
These two deeply influential factors are closely connected with one another – because if you have incorrect / outdated knowledge, then your thoughts, understanding, rationalization & beliefs can all be skewed. For example, if you were taught once upon a time that really bad back pain was because something really bad must have happened to your back, or that your spine is a weak structure, or that you may end up in a wheelchair (ALL NONSENSE) – then you will incorrectly believe that back pain is to be feared, deeply, & that you may never get better. Knowledge, beliefs & resultant emotion (as above) affect pain.
Now, Put All these Factors Together:
Modern life has become full of emotional threats, thoughts & factors - building up stress & anxiety… Driving our hyperbusy motorways, in the rain, in the dark… overcrowded commuting… relentless tech issues… online scams… problematic work environment… job stability & financial worries… harassment… difficult relationships… juggling family & work commitments… COVID 19 & the survival threat … poor sleep patterns & volume… self-torment over perceived poor willpower with diet/exercise/etc… the list goes on.
Put this modern life together with past experience, incorrect knowledge/misinformation, misbeliefs and emotion - it's a perfect storm for the brewing of persisting pain. In other words, it's easy to get "tricked" into thinking your pain must be due to something bad going on in your body, when it's not, and then keeping your brain producing pain - termed "chronic" pain.
The Good News: A Rainbow Shines in The Storm
You can “untrick” & rewire your brain - & relieve your pain - with up-to-date knowledge, simple, everyday strategies & inexpensive tools – like a pen & paper. You just have to learn what they are and then be consistent & be persistent. Relief & recovery from chronic pain is possible & not as difficult as you may have been led to believe: Change & calm the processing of your mind and you will be able to change the result felt in your body.
PS Look out for helpful strategies in blogs to come - & lots of books are already written on this life-transforming subject of recovery from chronic pain – see my website www.PhysioConnectDurley.co.uk/resources for further guiding details.
Very Important PPS: Soft tissues generally heal naturally with the right advice & conditions in 6-12 weeks, so it is important to note that any pain that continues beyond this should first be cleared of underlying medical problems by your doctor.