From Dr.s Eisendorf, de la Motte, Allari, Reimert, Telfer Shared Medical Appointment series in Santa Cruz, CA at PAMF/Sutter Health:

It is well known that the mind and emotions affect our physical health and our experience of pain. It is the brain that interprets all of our sensations and then sends messages back to the muscles, joints and organs. There is no pain that is just in our foot or leg or back. We have patients that have had legs amputated and still have “pain in the leg”. It is the brain that is giving all of our messages of pain.

Often we get caught in a negative cycle of pain. We may have had an injury or accident that caused pain. We react to pain with fear, worry, anger, remorse. These emotions themselves increase muscle tension and activate the sympathetic (fight or flight) nervous system, which in turn leads to more pain. We can all benefit from having a better understanding of how to harness the power of the mind to heal and help our body, rather than perpetuate our symptoms.

Regardless of whether we have damaged muscles, pinched nerves, numbness, weakness, arthritis, or even cancer, our mind is playing a big role in our experience of pain and tension. The following are several important steps that we can take.

1. In spite of all the evidence for the mind-body connection, most medical doctors and other health practitioners just focus on the body and our physical structure, when addressing pain or other physical symptoms. Therefore it is important to read books by physicians or authors who understand this other paradigm. Some that we highly recommend include: Back in Control, A Spine Surgeon’s Roadmap Out of Chronic Pain, by Dr. David Hanscom; Pain Free for Life, by Dr. Scott Brady; Unlearn Your Pain, by Dr. Howard Schubiner; They Can’t Find Anything Wrong, by Dr. David Clarke, Dr. John Sarno’s Healing Back Pain, The Mindbody Prescription, and The Divided Mind. Other valuable books are Back Sense, A Revolutionary Approach to Halting the Cycle of Chronic Back Pain, by Dr. Ronald Siegel, Michael Urdang, and Douglas Johnson and The Healing Code, by Drs Alexander Loyd and Ben Johnson. Buddha’s Brain, the practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love and Wisdom, by Rick Hanson, PhD and Richard Mendius, MD. The Last Best Cure, by Donna Jackson Nakazawa offers a balanced and scientifically researched approach for using meditation, mindfulness and yoga to help heal in the face of chronic pain and other illnesses. We also encourage investigating tmswiki.org, an informative website maintained by the non-profit Psychohysiologic Disorders Association.

2. Darlene Cohen, Zen Meditation teacher and author of Turning Suffering Inside Out, has taught for years that if our attention is constantly drawn to our pain or need to get rid of it, then life is intolerable. If our pain is only 1 of 100 different sensations and experiences that we give attention to, then it is very manageable. Based upon current theories of chronic pain, the less attention we give to our pain and the more we focus on other sensations, interests and experiences, the less ingrained the pain pathways become and the more likely they are to become extinct and fade away. This is the underlying concept behind reprograming of our nervous system and the value of practices like meditation, writing, visualizations and affirmations.

3. Take time, 15-30 minutes, every day to reflect upon and connect with your emotions.This can be through writing, meditation, or talking to someone who understands this process. Prayer and affirmations, as discussed and used in The Healing Code, are other highly effective healing practices for addressing our emotional and physical pain. Hundreds of studies show us that these practices help reduce pain and suffering. Many of these were done with people afflicted with cancer, arthritis, and other serious conditions. We are not denying our physical problem. But, endeavoring to use our mind and emotions to our advantage. When writing and talking about our condition we find benefit when we shift our attention from looking solely at the physical symptoms to look instead at the emotions. Acknowledge and express your fear, anger, worries, grief, and jealousy. As we express emotions we often then get in touch with deeper or underlying emotions. If the emotions feel too big or they’re not coming up at all then you may benefit from working with a skilled therapist. People often argue, “This pain is real, it’s not in my head”. Again, we wouldn’t disagree but reinforce the fact that it is our brain that interprets our sensations and is continuously sending messages back to the body. Our reaction to the pain affects the pain itself.

4. Movement is another important step to good health. Fear often leads us to immobility. We’re afraid of pain. Afraid we will hurt ourselves if we do some activity. It may have happened to us before. But, many of us also have had the experience that pain comes on even with inactivity. What we do know is that the less we move, the stiffer we become. Movement and exercise also release endorphins and other beneficial hormones and lead to an increase in strength and flexibility. We therefore encourage everyone to find a physical activity that you can do for at least 20-30 minutes 4 days per week. Low impact repetitive activities like walking, biking, and swimming are ideal (exercise machines can be a reasonable substitute). These activities raise our heart rate and utilize many major joints and muscle groups. Other things like gardening, yard work and sports can be of similar benefit. We may have fears of creating more pain. Start slow and persist. One day we may have pain, other days we’re likely to feel better. Most of the time we can continue with the activity in the presence of mild pain. Sometimes we may need to slow down the pace. We don’t believe, “no pain no gain”. But, pain usually doesn’t correlate with damage or injury, when we’re dealing with a chronic pain situation. If in doubt then consult with a trusted physician or physical therapist.

5. In Chinese medicine, Ayurvedic medicine, and other energy healing systems pain usually represents blocked or stagnant energy. Focusing on the pain itself creates or perpetuates more stagnation. While we don’t want to deny sensations or symptoms, we want to learn healthy strategies to address our energy imbalances. To this end, we encourage exploring practices that improve the flow of energy or Chi in the body. these include some forms of meditation, yoga, Chi Gong, Tai Chi, or other traditional energy exercises. A daily practice is of great benefit.

6. Attend and participate in the Healing Pain Shared Medical Appointments. These were created to provide an opportunity for people to discuss, learn, explore and get support to take on this challenge of participating in our healing, in the face of chronic pain and displeasure. Please call 831-462-7174 to register.

We look forward to sharing and exploring this with you.


Dr.’s Eisendorf, de la Motte, Allari, Reimert, Telfer

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