23 Sep Cognitive-Behavioral Pain Control
What if you were suffering from chronic pain and there was no such thing as pain medication, acupuncture or any other physical intervention that could help? What other forms of pain management could you turn to for relief? What if, for example, the only options you had for pain relieve were behavioral and cognitive pain control.
First, you might ask yourself if this were possible at all? Can you control pain just by changing your thoughts or behaviors? It turns out, you certainly may not be able to make the pain go away entirely, but the perception of pain can be diminished by how you think and how you behave.
Pain, of course, is not all in your mind. Using cognitive-behavioral techniques for pain control will probably not make the pain disappear and will often be used along with massage, heat or ice therapy, pain medication, and even surgery, when necessary. However, more and more studies are finding that pain can be diminished through techniques that do not include medicine, surgery or any other physical intervention.
Focusing on the Pain
Cognitive-behavioral techniques start with the idea that focusing on the pain and complaining about it constantly tends to make people perceive more pain, while relaxation, distractions, and trying to do as much for yourself as possible tends to do the opposite.
Have you ever noticed those early spring or late fall days when the temperature suddenly plunges or even those days in mid-winter, where everyone is bundled up in sweaters, scarves, hats, mittens and the puffiest parkas they can find? Then you look around and notice someone walking down the sidewalk wearing nothing but shorts, sneakers, and a thin coat. Their skin might look red, but they don’t seem perturbed by the weather in the slightest. What’s going on there?
There are people who prefer not to acknowledge the cold and “give in to it.” They are wise enough, everyone hopes, to find shelter before they end up with frostbite, but they are still not so shocked by the cold that they complain about it or hurry through it.
There are stories of children raised in isolation who were not socialized to think that cold weather was such a big deal, so they go outside and play in the snow barefoot. While this is only safe to a point, these children simply don’t see what all the fuss is about and, consequently, don’t feel the same level of cold like everyone else. This is the same with pain. We can focus on the pain and the pain level we perceive increases. Meanwhile, just by focusing on something else, the pain we perceive goes down.
Virtual Pain Relief
Several studies have shown that playing a virtual reality game lowers the perception of pain. It’s just a distraction – but a good one. And it doesn’t mean the pain has gone away, but it means the pain is better controlled. Behavioral pain management involves stopping yourself from groaning, grimacing, wincing or grabbing onto the place where it hurts. There are two benefits when you stop doing these things: You stop reinforcing the perception of pain that you feel. That means you begin to convince yourself that you can stand the pain, instead of the other way around.
Secondly, you become more independent, because people don’t rush to your aid quite so much. When people don’t rush in to help, you find you can do things yourself, regardless of the pain. And, in reverse, when you grimace or cry out in pain, you communicate to others you are in pain. They begin to react to you differently. They might help you focus on the pain, rather than on something else.
However, when you are more independent, you begin to think, “Well, maybe this doesn’t hurt as much as I thought it did. After all, it didn’t stop me from doing something.” When that confidence rises, you begin to feel like the master of your perceptions, rather than the victim of your perceptions.