ALL pain is in the mind because that's where we FEEL pain so it makes sense our feelings and emotions can affect how we feel and cope with our pain.
You might think that pain is purely physical and that how you experience it will be similar for most people. Your experience of pain can change depending on what else is happening in your life. If you’re trying to juggle work, the school holidays and other family commitments, your body can trigger a pain reaction in response. We’re not psychologists, but our research and experience with patients has shown us how we store emotions in our bodies and how that impacts our pain levels. Here’s how stress can impact your pain and what help is available.
All pain has an emotional element
When a patient comes to us with a physical symptom, whether it’s back, shoulder or even stomach pain, we assess them to find the physical cause of the pain. However, we’re always aware that you can’t separate the head from the body when trying to find the cause of someone’s pain.
During our physical assessment, we’ll ask our patients how long their pain has been going on and what started it. If you have a niggling pain, the reason behind it may be unclear. However, looking back, we’ll find that their pain started when they were overloaded at work because of staff absences, or they supported their children through exams or a relative with health issues. These stress factors may not necessarily cause the pain but they can make pain more difficult to manage.
Recognise how stress affects your body
If you’re in pain, it’s vital to recognise how stress and anxiety can affect how you feel. Pain and discomfort are never purely physical; there’s always an emotional component to it too. Even when there’s a physical cause, your pain is also a manifestation of what’s going on inside. And it can manifest in different ways too. We are all different and our bodies respond differently - one man's Irritable Bowel Syndrome is another man's migraine.
Stress can also cause pain. We move and sit differently when we’re stressed. You’re more likely to get into a hunched position, which your body will adapt to if you’re experiencing long-term stress. That change to your posture can cause pain on its own. It also affects your breathing as a stressed position means it becomes shallower.
" Stress may not necessarily cause the pain but it can make it more difficult to manage and cope with "
Your circumstances can affect how you experience pain
There’s power in knowing that you’re in control of your pain. You may have heard the terms pain tolerance and threshold and assumed they mean the same thing. However, pain tolerance is when you notice something is painful, and it’s at a similar level for most people. Your pain threshold is the point at which you can’t take the pain any longer. There can be a big difference between your pain threshold and someone else’s.
This can affect the level of control you feel you have and how we treat you. Some treatments or exercises will increase your pain. That’s fine if you can manage your pain and find that it settles down, even if it doesn’t completely resolve, but we don’t want to treat you in a way that makes your pain worse. Sometimes it helps to know that your pain has a purpose and won’t last forever, for example, if you’re in labour.
How we can help you
Our patients come to us for help with the physical component of their pain, but we find that
treatment has an emotional impact too. If you’ve had a knee replacement, you might have forgotten what it’s like to be pain-free, which can be emotionally draining. The pain afterwards, as you
recover, can have a different quality and that influences how we treat you.
You might benefit from soft tissue release, massage or reflexology. We also offer a Gentle Release treatment that provides an emotional release that can have a real physical impact.
How you can help yourself
Breathing correctly and controlling your diaphragm has physical benefits, calms your mind and desensitises your nervous system. That can lessen your pain experience but also allow you to listen to your body and work out what’s going on. CBT or counselling can also provide practical support if you need it and can help you to feel less anxious.
While breathing and relaxation techniques help, so can taking good care of your general health. Exercising, eating well and getting enough sleep all reduce your stress levels.
Everyone experiences pain differently, but recognising how your emotions and stress can impact your pain can help you feel more in control. Taking practical steps to support your physical and emotional health can have a powerful effect on your experience of pain.