DR MAX PEMBERTON: Trust me, you can beat pain with your mind
- Dr Max Pemberton said physical health problems have a psychological element
- He said that our minds play an important role in how we experience chronic pain
- People with chronic pain are often offered psychotherapy rather than painkillers
- He also recommends progressive muscle relaxation to help with lower back pain
Many physical health problems have a psychological component, and this is particularly true of pain.
We know from countless studies that our minds play an extraordinarily important role in how we experience chronic pain like that associated with lower back problems.
People with chronic pain who are lucky enough to see a specialist are often surprised to find they are being offered psychotherapy rather than simply more painkillers.
The research supporting this is good. Just last week a study was published which showed a four-week course of psychological therapy can dramatically reduce chronic back pain for many patients for at least a year.
People with chronic pain are often surprised to find they are being offered psychotherapy rather than simply more painkillers, Dr Max Pemberton (pictured) says
We’ve known about the psychological component in our experience of pain for nearly 80 years.
During World War II an American anaesthetist named Henry Beecher was treating soldiers who had been severely injured in battle — many had legs blown off or shrapnel embedded in their bodies —when he noticed that more than half reported little or no pain and did not request analgesia.
What puzzled Beecher was that, in peacetime, almost all his patients requested painkillers for far less severe injuries. It was then he realised he had not accounted for one thing: the power of the mind.
He realised that, for the soldiers, a severe injury was actually good — it meant they would be discharged from the Army and could return home. For civilians, however, it was bad — a disruption to their life and routine that could mean financial hardship.
Beecher realised that it’s not necessarily the magnitude of the injury that predicts how a person experiences pain, but the circumstance in which it occurs.
Since then we have come to understand more and more about the mind and pain and, as a result, we have developed psychological treatments to help people with chronic pain.
I know from personal experience that back pain can be incredibly debilitating, as myself and both my parents have suffered it over the years. When your physical movement is limited because of pain, this impacts on your mood and this, in turn, worsens the pain.
Other factors, such as your coping strategies and general outlook on life, also play a role. If you have anxiety or a tendency to feel hopeless or overwhelmed, then feeling pain will increase these feelings, and this can make the pain worse.
We know from countless studies that our minds play an extraordinarily important role in how we experience chronic pain like that associated with lower back problems (stock image)
However, it’s important to emphasise that, while our minds play a role in how we experience pain, you should not trivialise it — chronic pain is very disabling.
While the study from last week involved a full, in-depth four-week course, there are still simple things everyone with back pain can do to start addressing symptoms:
FACE IT BOND BADDIES ARE OUT OF DATE
No Time To Die has been hailed a triumph, not least in how it has sensitively moved James Bond’s character on from being a misogynist creep to someone more in keeping with today’s standards – while retaining all the thrills and suaveness of past films.
Yet why do so many Bond baddies have facial disfigurements? The baddie in the film – Safin, played by Rami Malek – has facial scars.
Why do so many Bond baddies have facial disfigurements? The baddie in the film – Safin, played by Rami Malek (pictured) – has facial scars
Charity Changing Faces says ‘scars, burns or physical imperfections’ are used as a ‘shorthand for villainy’.
Shakespeare did this by presenting one of his most reviled villains, Richard III, as a ‘poisonous bunch-back’d toad’.
While he portrayed Richard as a hunchback, in reality his body — found under a car park in Leicester in 2012 — showed this was a myth. Shakespeare used the idea of physical deformity as a statement about Richard’s character.
The idea that we can gauge what someone is like by their appearance still plagues those with physical deformity or disfigurements today.
I have a lot of sympathy for Katie Price, who crashed her BMW during a ‘drugs and alcohol’ binge and now faces possible jail.
After the crash she checked herself in for psychiatric treatment and I hope she can address her demons. I’ve never been comfortable with the way people have poked fun at her.
It always struck me as the way society likes to punish any successful woman who won’t play by the rules. She’s far from a pneumatic airhead.
Her son Harvey is severely disabled and she has talked about her heart-breaking decision to find a home for him.
Relatives have said this decision triggered her drug use. I do understand this, but it isn’t an excuse. Getting behind the wheel while intoxicated is unimaginably stupid and reckless.
DR MAX PRESCRIBES… A WELLNESS JOURNAL
I love these beautifully presented, well thought-out journals. They last three months and encourage you to focus on positive things each day with pages for intentions, feel-good goals and wishlists.
Joy Wellness Journal, £24.99, papier.com
There’s an emphasis on gratitude and space for daily reflections (Joy Wellness Journal, £24.99, papier.com).
The Lancet medical journal has caused controversy after calling women ‘bodies with vaginas’. What was it thinking?
Medicine has a sorry history of controlling women’s bodies, with stories of only married women being allowed the Pill and so on.
I’m sure The Lancet was trying to be inclusive, but this was a miss.
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