Positive Thinking can control pain

  • Is the answer to this common arthritis symptom in your mind?
  •  Yet more proof that drugless treatments for joint pain really do work
  •  How this young woman overcame her mobility problems

Today I am talking about positive thinking, and how powerful it can be in managing chronic pain.

Let me start by considering some of the most serious of painful conditions.

There are 800,000 people with inflammatory rheumatic diseases in the UK.

Four in five of these sufferers report daily fatigue problem.

It’s not merely ‘tiredness’…

This is something very serious that can stop people from working, make it impossible to concentrate, and can even mean that they need care in the home.

If you’re a fatigue sufferer, then you’ll be as fascinated as I am by a new study published in Lancet Rheumatology,

It was carried out by the universities of Aberdeen and Glasgow and funded by charity Versus Arthritis,

They offered three different types of care to 368 people with inflammatory rheumatic diseases who were suffering from fatigue.

  • Physical activity programmes (five one-to-one 45-minute sessions over 30 weeks)
  • Cognitive behavioural therapy – eight session of talking
  • The ‘usual care’ (an education booklet on fatigue)

The people who underwent talking therapies or exercise therapy significantly improved fatigue levels compared to those who got the usual care.

They also enjoyed improved sleep, better mental health and a higher overall quality of life.

These benefits continued for six months after completion of the treatment.

Lead investigator, Professor Neil Basu, said: “Our study provides new evidence that some non-pharmacological interventions can be successfully and effectively delivered by non-specialist members of the clinical service.”

This is such a great story, because it’s yet more evidence that we don’t always need drugs for health problems.

Here’s an example…

How this man cured his arthritis

Last month I read a Times article by John Naish, a journalist who suffered serious arthritis in the 1980s, triggered by illness and post traumatic stress disorder after reporting in the Afghan-Soviet war.

He tried something that was a radical approach at that time – to tackle his mindset rather than resorting to drugs. This included meditation and yoga.

He says that because of this therapy he became pain-free and painkiller-free after.

Dr Deepak Ravindran from the Royal Berkshire Hospital is author of The Pain Free Mindset: 7 Steps to Taking Control and Overcoming Chronic Pain. He says that “there is good biological evidence to show that when you positively think or talk, or reframe the situation in a glass half full way, your levels of pain can fall.”

Why should this be?

Because, as he puts it, “the immune system receptors in the brain and the nervous system constantly scan for signs of physical threat.”

So when you are in a negative emotional state, it sends chemical signals that this system picks up as cues for causing pain.

In other words, if you can push your mind to think more positively, you can train your body to send itself ‘safe’ messages that reassure and soothe, rather than ‘danger’ messages that inflame and aggravate.

That can sound a little flaky to some people, who assume ‘positive thinking’ cannot possibly cure pain.

But here’s another real life case that might interest you…

How this young woman overcame her mobility problems… with her mind!

On the BMJ website I found a really interesting testimony from Hannah Vickers, a chronic leg pain sufferer.

She says…

“The unpredictable nature of pain symptoms can lead to overthinking, overplanning, and avoidance. When I first experienced chronic leg pain I noticed that stairs could be triggering it.

As a young, fit individual I began to actively avoid stairs and seek out the lift. This meant that, when presented with stairs as the only option, I often became nervous and then hyper-aware of my legs.

 When I then did go upstairs, inevitably it would hurt and the experience would reaffirm the idea that stairs were bad for me.”

Hannah found that it was effective to give herself a positive goal beyond simply “to not be in pain”.

For her it was about regular training to become fitter, rather than focussing on the bad leg.

It didn’t remove the pain entirely,  but it made her more able to manage the symptoms and feel more optimistic about her future.

So that’s one practical thing you could do to help control your pain…

Set yourself a big meaningful goal – a garden or home DIY project, learning an instrument, taking up a hobby like photography, or exploring a landscape.

Ideally choose one that keeps you moving or keep your brain engaged with exciting ideas.

You can also try these mindfulness techniques…

  • Spend 5 minutes in a quiet space, focusing on the rhythms of your breath
  • Fixate on all aspects of a sensory experience, like eating food or smelling flowers in the garden
  • Take a long time to create a big meal, really concentrating on the elements involved, carrying out each part slowly and carefully
  • Go on a walk and try and notice all the details around you, from the cracks in the pavement to the moss growing on walls to the bird sounds around you.

These are some gentle, positive thinking methods that help take your mind away from focussing on pain.

And as a final tip…

Evidence shows that socialising reduces the sensation of pain (whereas loneliness makes it more acute!)

So do try and meet up with friends and family as often as you can this summer.

And if that’s difficult to do, consider joining a local activity where you get to meet people – for instance a walking group, book club, or chess club.

Don’t be shy – it could do you the world of good!