People who live with chronic pain have our sympathy. Living with pain all the time, or living with it for a shorter period of time, both impact one’s life in a lot of ways beyond just being miserable from the pain. You end up giving up activities you enjoy, possibly having to give up your job, missing family events… it goes on and on. So finding relief is extremely important.
There are lots of drugs available to reduce pain… from over-the-counter options to highly regulated prescription pain medications…. and they all have some negative side effects. But sometimes they are the only relief for some people.
Because of all of the above, there has been a lot of research done trying to find additional pain relief options. We ran across an article on some research that’s been done to try to use one’s own brain to control their pain.
Studies were done at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitiat Munchen in collaboration with the University of Oxford, to see if participants could reduce their pain simply by using their own thoughts.
The researchers subjected each participant to painful cold stimulus and then asked them to try one of three strategies:
1. Count down from 1,000 by 7’s.
2. Think of something pleasant and beautiful.
3. Persuading themselves using autosuggestion that the stimulus just wasn’t that bad.
While each participant was working on blocking their pain by using the power of their brain, the researchers were watching their brain activity using an MRI machine. What they found is really interesting. It turned out that all three of the strategies used different areas of the subjects’ brains and all helped to reduce the subjects perceived pain, but one strategy was the very clear “winner” when it came to overcoming even severe pain and acute pain.
Counting down from 1000 by 7’s was without a doubt the most effective of the three methods.
“This task obviously requires such a high level of concentration that it distracts the subject’s attention significantly from the sensation of pain. In fact, some of our subjects managed to reduce the perceived intensity of pain by 50 per cent”, said researcher and LMU neuroscientist Enrico Schulz. He added that “One participant later reported that she had successfully adopted the strategy during the most painful phase of child birth.”
An obvious question is whether or not that pain reduction strategy that worked in acute situations would work on chronic pain on a daily basis. That’s the next step the researchers plan to study since it was so very effective on acute pain. Scientists believe there is reason to believe the method might work on chronic pain since the association between thought processes and long-term pain has been established. A recent study found that just thinking negatively about one’s chronic pain can lead to a downturn in activity by the afflicted person which worsens the pain. Dr. Ellen Slawsby, an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School said “Practicing a combination of mind-body skills increases the effectiveness of pain relief.”
So the next time you’re in pain maybe you’ll want to try counting backwards from a 1,000 by 7s. Wouldn’t it be great if it worked?!? S