Living with Chronic Pain

The Pain Isn’t in Your Head

2014-05-26 09:31:48

By Dr. Henry J. Svec

Your pain is real.  Chronic pain is a puzzling and often frustrating illness to treat.  It starts often with an acute injury that may get a bit better over time, but then improvement just stops.  Your shoulder starts to feel better after surgery, the surgeon did a great job, but it still hurts.  We use a 0-10 scale where 0 represents no pain and 10 worst pain ever to excruciating.  Chronic pain symptoms can range from 3-10 depending on the nature of the injury, and for how long you have been experiencing it.  Even though fixed you may have to live with a pain level of 5 with medical interventions, but other pain management strategies may help make it better.

Over time, we know that chronic pain can also have an impact on your brain.  A study out of Northwestern University some years ago pointed to a “pea-sized loss” of grey matter for each year you have chronic pain. 

As a psychologist, some wonder what I am doing treating chronic pain patients.  If pain isn’t in your head, but really is the result of a physical injury that just hasn’t been able to heal, how could a psychologist help?

Psychologists trained in Rehabilitation as I am, understand that many powerful psychological tools can help improve movement, return to work options and activity levels.  We do know that if you do too much, you will hurt more the next day, and that’s not helpful.  We do know that pain does not mean harm, so the challenge is finding the balance between doing just enough to improve over time, but not too much to stop movement for days.

It’s a self-help model of pain management.  It’s about you applying the tools you learn to improve your quality of life.  Some will work, some won’t.  You just need to try them and tweak them to fit your goals and life style.

In this blog, I’ll discuss various topics related to the management and improvement of pain symptoms utilizing multi-disciplinary techniques.  We don’t fix the pain, but help you learn to use strategies and techniques to reduce the levels of pain that you have, and increase your quality of life.  Next week, I’ll discuss why moving more can actually reduce your pain symptoms.