How Changing Your Language Can Change Your Pain
What is Pain?
“An unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage, or described in terms of such damage.” IASP
- ALL PAIN is an output from your brain
- It is the conclusion / decision of your brain based on all available physical inputs, previous experience, beliefs, current situation and context
But what’s the point of all this pain? Well, pain is there to protect us. Pain tells us something is wrong, it makes us stop what we are doing and pay attention and helps to prevent worse injuries.
However, this “protective” system can become maladaptive. When we are under stress our nervous system can get set into “fight or flight” mode. Our brain registers a threat in our environment and sets into motion the hormonal and physiological changes, all of which can contribute to increased pain. This includes not moving or breathing optimally, as well as having increased muscle tension/stiffness. And so the vicious cycle begins, as increased pain then increases stress.
So how do we feel better? Understanding pain as your body’s “alarm system” can be helpful. Most people’s nervous system is wired for the alarm (pain) to go off when the security breach hits a certain threshold – for example a real threat like a person entering the house.
Most people with chronic pain have a heightened or sensitized nervous system.
The amount and severity of the pain they experience isn’t directly linked with the severity of dysfunction or damage in their body. Their alarm (pain) goes off at a much lower threshold, say if someone knocks at the door or the wind blows hard against the window. And not only is their alarm (pain) triggered at a lower threshold, the sound is more amplified (pain is more intense).
So what can you do to get out of pain?
- Address any underlying dysfunction and look at the root cause, but if the pain is disproportionate from potential or prior injury then other factors are at play with the pain.
- Address comorbidities and potential nutritional/hormonal imbalances (see your medical provider)
- Reduce stress: this can be done through meditation, relaxation techniques (breath work), exercising, and proper sleep
Change Your Language
The language we use, the way we label and name threats, and the stories we tell ourselves, have a huge impact over how we process stress and fear.
Reframing our language can change a stressor from something we can’t control into something we can control. Which all helps to bring stress, fear and our nervous system response into check.
Things that contribute to pain: Anxiety, Depression, Catastrophization (pain-related worry), Low Self-Efficacy, Low Positive Affect, Injustice, Fear-Avoidance Beliefs, Shame/Self-Compassion. So if we feed into these areas, the pain will not get better, however if you change your language/thoughts, you will be able to break out of the pattern of pain and stress.
This involves thinking the worst of the situation.
It may start with “I am hurting today.” Then expand on the thought with worry and anxiety, such as, “The pain is only going to get worse,” or “This hurting means I’ll never get better.”
What to do instead: recognize these thoughts, stop yourself and reframe. “I am hurting today, but ___ feels ok today” or focus on another win—a movement or activity you were able to do with less pain. “I am hurting today, but I CAN and I will get better”
Having unhelpful beliefs about pain and work/certain activities – for instance, ‘If I lift above __ lbs I will hurt myself’
Instead: “I can do ___ activities without increased pain” “I can work back up to lifting ____ lbs without hurting myself”
Uncertainty about what the future holds: “I don’t think I’ll ever get better” “There’s no end in sight to my pain”
Instead: “I don’t know what the future holds, but I can get better.
“Fix Me” Expectations
Expecting other people or interventions to solve the problems (being passive in the process) and serial visits to various practitioners for help with no improvement. “Nobody has been able to fix me/my problem”
Instead: “I will take control of my health and work with my team/support system to forge a path forward.”
If you’re struggling with chronic pain and want to learn more, reach out to us at [email protected] to get scheduled up for a virtual or in-person evaluation. We want to help get you on track with your recovery!