Reducing Chronic Pain With Your Thoughts

By: Benjamin Akaezuwa, PT, DPT, Cooperman Barnabas Medical Center Rehabilitation at Millburn

Pain is a sensory and emotional experience that is associated with actual or potential tissue damage. Potential tissue damage means we can still continue to feel pain in the absence of an injury. Chronic pain is pain that lasts more than three months, which is longer than the normal healing time of an injury. Chronic pain is associated with changes in our brain and nervous system and can interfere with not only our physical health but our mental and emotional well-being.

Chronic pain has been shown to manifest negative emotions such as fear, stress, anxiety, and depression and cause us to avoid certain situations and movements. How do we address the mental and emotional aspects of chronic pain to help reduce our pain and improve our quality of life? One way is through a thought exercise called a “body scan”.

Whenever you find yourself experiencing pain, perform a “body scan”. Lay down or sit in a comfortable position in a quiet room. Close your eyes. Use your imagination and “scan” yourself from head-to-toe by bringing your attention to each area of your body. Take extra time on any parts of your body that is painful. Rate your pain severity on a scale from 0-10 and notice what your automatic thoughts or beliefs are about the pain sensation. Are they negative such as: “this pain is unbearable” or “it isn’t fair that I have so much pain”?

Having negative thoughts and beliefs about our pain can result in increased levels of stress, anxiety, and fear. What can you tell yourself that’s more accurate and positive? A positive and more realistic pain appraisal can help lower pain levels and improve our mental and emotional health. Try thinking instead: “I may have pain but my body is still strong” or “I’m thankful for my body for trying to keep me safe” or “I have pain right now but it will pass.” Finally, rate your pain severity again. By using body scans we can physically change our brains and learn how to cope with our pain and live a better quality of life!

The Cooperman Barnabas Medical Center Rehabilitation centers are open and ready to help you achieve your goals. With four locations in West Orange, Millburn and Livingston, the experienced and compassionate staff at Cooperman Barnabas Rehabilitation offers adults and children the specialized care they need to resume an active life after surgery, injury or illness. They are committed to providing patients with the most advanced services in a safe, caring and soothing environment. For high-risk patients who are unable to visit in person, telehealth is an option. Patients do not need a prescription for physical therapy services.

To make an appointment at Cooperman Barnabas Medical Center Rehabilitation at Millburn, call 973-921-0480.