Pain Is All In Your Head, But It's Real

Pain is your brain's response to a signal, so it really is in your head. Photo: iStock Photo. pain, pain relief, brain, holistic pain relief, treatment, health, swelling, holistic therapies, endorphins, yoga, meditation, laughterI flew to Phoenix this month for a conference on Integrative Pain Management for Optimal Care, and as I signed in, I received a paper cut at the base of my pinky finger. We've all had a paper cut before. We know that it is not dangerous unless we allow it to become infected. We know that the cut is tiny and that it will heal well. But we also know how much they hurt. And, we know that there is that moment when you are aware of the cut, don't feel it yet, but know that it will start to sting in just another moment.

Pain is a quirky thing. Tiny damage, or even no damage, can cause big pain. Big damage can cause little or no pain. Pain in one area may be caused by something going on in an entirely different area of the body. The actual sensation and intensity of pain is usually forgotten over time. And one person's 10 out of 10 for pain might be another's three out of 10.

Even though pain is the most common reason for healthcare visits, and 90 percent of Americans regularly suffer from some sort of pain, only 25 percent of individuals with treatable pain actually receive appropriate therapy.

Pain is quirky because it is felt in the brain, not in the affected body part. Pain is a signal sent to the brain, where it is interpreted into something that we feel. And because the brain is complex, our interpretation can vary widely with emotions, thoughts, past patterns, fatigue, adrenaline, fear, and more. In fact, fear of pain can be more disabling than the pain itself.

I knew this before attending this conference, but upon my return I was reminded with a personal lesson: I spent the day with my husband and our dogs, and I walked, ran, crouched, chased, and was chased. I mentioned to my husband that my knee felt really tight and restricted, but it did not limit my activities. It wasn't until that evening that I finally happened to look at my knee. It was hugely swollen.

"No wonder I couldn't bend it properly," I thought. And then a funny thing happened. I started to limp. I hadn't limped two seconds before noticing the swelling. I told myself that I didn't need to limp. I told myself that I was fine now because I was fine with it just a moment ago. Yet I still felt the need to limp, and I also started to feel a slight ache. The pain wasn't just in my head, as there was obviously some sort of injury, but this was a perfect reminder of how the mind affects the body.

Holistic Pain Relief

Don't underestimate the power of your mind when it comes to pain. Listen to your pain, but try not to let it control you.

Try things like meditation, breathing exercises, and laughter. Find out what exercises or activities you can do as exercise releases endorphins, your feel-good hormones. Finally, choose holistic therapies that consider the whole you—body, mind, and spirit.

After the standard RICE (rest, icing, compression, elevation), Traumeel tablets, topical arnica, and herbal anti-inflammatories (I don't mess around!), I also added acupuncture, good sleep, and deep breathing exercises to address all aspects of my wellness. Now I'm able to jump for joy!

By Dr. Melissa Carr| November 05, 2009
Categories:  Care

About the Author

Dr. Melissa Carr

Dr. Melissa Carr

Dr. Carr is a registered Doctor of TCM and began her career in health with a Bachelors degree in Human Kinetics. After spending two years in Japan, one of which was spent doing research at Ehime Medical University, she completed a 4-year training for Doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine at the International College of TCM. As part of the program, she interned at two hospitals in China: Acupuncture Hospital in Hefei, Anhui province and Jiang Yin TCM Hospital in Jiangyin, Jiangsu province. During her schooling, she worked as a nutritional consultant where she advised people on the use of western herbs and supplements. She also taught nutrition at the West Coast College of Massage Therapy.

In addition to running her clinic, Dr. Carr also acts as a natural health and nutrition consultant for several magazines and clinics. For more information about Dr. Carr visit:

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