Are you one of the millions who currently rely on opioids for pain relief? Chronic pain affects millions in the United States and both patients and practitioners often believe the only viable treatment is medication such as opioid painkillers. There are alternatives.
What you may not realize is the effect that your thoughts play on not only your perception of pain but also on how pain develops in the body.
Fact: Opioids may alleviate pain temporarily but they will not lead to long-term relief. (1)
In today’s blog, I’ll explore the alternatives to opioids and how persistent negative thoughts influence your pain.
How Negative Thoughts Affect Pain
Chronic pain affects each person individually, and those who suffer from it may anticipate negative outcomes. Pain might cause you to feel anxious, angry, sad or even hopeless, anticipating the worst outcome.
What many people don’t realize is that these types of thoughts negatively impact your pain and recovery.
Negative automatic thoughts, are also know as pain catastrophizing– is a negative cascade of cognitive and emotional responses to actual or anticipated pain. (2) To some degree, negative thoughts are normal when you have pain. But if you let these thoughts overcome and control your minute by minute thinking they can make the intensity of your pain worse and make the pain last longer.
Why are negative thoughts associated with pain catastrophizing?
When you suffer from chronic pain you often stop being active and fear movement. Avoiding movement may seem to be the quickest and most effective way to deal with pain. This is a normal response to pain, but it leads to what is known as fear-avoidance. (3) What are the signs of fear-avoidant behaviors?
- fear of movement
- fear basic daily activities will harm you
- fear that you are re-injuring yourself
- fear that you are damaging yourself further
- physical deconditioning
- muscle wasting
- avoiding work or recreation
- dependency on painkillers
- believing the only way to alleviate your pain is with medication.
In the long run, this only hinders recovery and can lead to increased pain and disability. All of this feeds the negative thoughts and emotions that have a powerful effect on your pain.These negative thoughts are why pain psychology exists – to solve unknown cognitive and emotional contributors to pain.
Although it may seem counter-intuitive, some of the best medicine for pain is being active. Staying active while maintaining appropriate exercise and movement is one way for people to gain the power to control their chronic pain and allow them to live the best life they can.
Why Focus on Thoughts to Alleviate Pain?
Most people think of pain as centered on a location in the body: “Ouch, my back hurts.” This is why most people seek traditional prescriptions. However, the official medical definition of pain is that it’s a negative sensory and emotional experience. With my patients, I address not only the physical aspects of pain but also focus on the psychosocial aspects, or what is better known as the biopsychosocial model of pain care. (4) This means treating not only the physical aspects of the pain (the biological) but also the parts relating to the patient’s wellbeing, the psychological, as well as the social aspects that may unknowingly affect a patient’s’ recovery. This model of treatment isn’t well known but it provides a more effective method of recovery.
Attending to all three aspects of pain is the main focus of proper pain care, with the ultimate goal of empowering you the patient by teaching you active coping strategies that will give you better control over your pain. Ultimately this can lead to fewer doctors, fewer pills, fewer bills and a return to a joyful and active life.
If you want more specific information about negative thoughts listen to podcast # 11 about how to live a life with less pain and fewer pills.
“So, is the pain all in my head?”
No, your pain is real and has a medical basis; it’s not a mental illness nor is it your “fault” that you have chronic pain. What you may not realize about pain is that you can take control and lessen your suffering.
Lifestyle is not often talked and has a tremendous impact on your pain. And so do your thoughts and emotions. They influence how much pain you feel, how much you suffer, and whether your pain gets better or not.
What can I expect from a lifestyle intervention?
Integrated care is what works best for chronic pain. This may involve treatments that include exercise, nutrition, manual therapy, supplements, cognitive strategies, mindfulness and even spirituality. Here are some further lifestyle interventions to think about:
- Sleep: How many hours of sleep do you get each night? Do you wake up feeling refreshed? Did you have trouble sleeping before chronic pain or did it come after they were diagnosed with chronic pain? Do you wake up feeling drowsy?
- Medications: This entails looking at the medications possibly taken before your diagnosis of chronic pain as well as those previously or currently being taken to treat chronic pain. You may be taking medications to ease daily life, especially to help sleep. The use of opioids is needed in certain cases however they come at a cost as opioids often disrupt sleep, cause gastrointestinal distress, addiction, dependence and nutrient deficiencies.
- Daily schedule: Are you actively taking steps and planning ways to resume your old life to the best of your ability? Or do you spend most of the day sedentary watching TV the couch? Are you afraid to resume normal daily activities?
- Health history (mental and physical): Sometimes trauma that seems unrelated may, in fact, affect current pain. Past trauma or abuse that has gone on unaddressed may amplify pain as an adult.
**Free Chronic Pain Presentation: Click here to learn natural ways to heal from pain without prescription medication or surgery.
Why not opioids?
In the past 10 to 15 years the United States has seen a sharp rise in opioid prescriptions. Recent data in 2012 showed that about 300 million opioid prescriptions were dispensed in the United States. That’s enough to medicate every American every day for one month. Historically, prescribing opioids was rare and only for cancer treatments and end-of-life patients. However, misinformation about opioids spread, leading people to believe that opioids were safe, effective and non-addictive. Today we consume 80% of the world’s supply of opioid medications and more than 90% percent of the world’s supply of oxycodone.
Today we consume 80% of the world’s supply of opioid medications Click To Tweet
Everyone believed the misinformation, as everyone wanted to believe that opioids were the quick and easy solution to the chronic pain epidemic. Although the Center for Disease Control recently announced that opioids aren’t an effective treatment for chronic pain, they are still the go-to prescription for many physicians due to a lack of knowledge about alternatives.
There are many natural options for healing from pain and decreasing suffering. One excellent FREE resource is my podcast. Check it out HERE!
Remember, reversing pain requires an integrated approach.
If you need help to better understand what to eat, how to move, or how your thoughts and emotions affect your pain, I hope you’ll consider attending my Free Webinar on Healing Pain Naturally.
You’ll learn how to use the power of your mind to heal and how nutrition and gentle movement can reverse your pain. If that sounds like what you need, I hope you’ll attend this life-changing webinar.
Sign-up for the free webinar here (I’ll email you a recording, too!).