Pain Myths #3 – “It’s all in your head”

May 15, 2018

By far the most unhelpful thing a person in pain can hear.

Particularly if it has been there for a long time.

Persistent pain totally sucks. Everything is affected, it literally drains the life out of people.

Pain triggers a reaction in your immune system. Your body tries to fight it like a sickness.

Imagine going to someone for help, and they suggest to you that this thing that is always on your back, unrelenting, stopping you from being you is not actually real.

Or better yet it’s because you aren’t tough enough, or you’re “hysterical”, or you have a “low pain threshold”.

What would you do? Most people I speak to just feel worse, lose more hope and get more upset.

I would be going all kung fu on that joker!!

But, i’m not in pain. And I understand why that sentence is completely ridiculous.

All pain is real. All pain is individual.

You can empathise with someone in pain. You can try and help them. But you can’t tell them what they should feel, or how bad it should be or that it’s not as bad as they say it is.

It’s mean, patronising and, even worse – completely unscientific!!!!!

Outraged!! Good!! You should be!!

It is symptomatic of a lack of understanding from health professionals that people hear this.

Your brain decides when you need to feel pain. But pain is experienced throughout the entire system, the entire person. Back pain is back pain, not imaginary head pain.

What they should be doing, after listening to a person’s story, getting all their fears, worries, goals and barriers, is educating them about what that pain actually is.

It’s real, but it doesn’t always mean there is something terrible happening.

Very logically we equate pain with structure and with function.

As in, if my back hurts, there is something wrong with the structures in my back and I shouldn’t be moving it.

Pain can be related to structure, and it is harder to move when something hurts, but they are still 3 separate things.

The health professional’s job is to identify when it is something to worry about (and do something about it) and when it is not.

If it is not, then it’s their job to provide enough education and support to make the person in pain feel safe in moving, and get them to do it for enough time to get back to what they want to do with less chance of it coming back.

Simple, right?

But it is not easy.

Persistent pain is extremely complex and is already hard to navigate without loading the person with incorrect, negative and harmful statements like “it’s all in your head”.

If you have been put off accessing help by something like this, remember all health professionals aren’t the same. Long term pain is really hard to deal with without help.

You just have to find good help.