DR. WAYNE M. FICHTER: Can a negative attitude affect your pain?

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No matter how much you exercise or eat healthy, at some time you will experience neck or back pain.

For most of us, back pain is just a minor problem that happens every once in a while, hangs around for a few of days, then goes away. For other people, it’s a constant problem.

How well you deal with your back pain, and whether you get the right treatment, will determine whether you control your pain, or it controls you.

Chronic pain affects every part of the individual’s life, including their relationships, their job and their ability to participate in their normal daily activities. Obviously, when anything has this level of impact on our lives and affects our loved ones, it’s no wonder we are likely to experience negative thoughts. Negative thoughts have the ability to increase your sensitivity to pain in different ways. Negative emotions create muscle tension. Continuous muscle tension causes joints to become crammed together and overworks your muscles, increasing your pain down your spine.

As you can see, negative feelings lead to more negative feelings which, in the end, could lead to depression and anxiety.

Unfortunately, there is a strong link between depression and chronic pain, which can lead to exaggerated symptoms with patients reporting a higher pain intensity. What’s even more interesting is that both conditions, when not controlled, heighten all associated symptoms. So a person with chronic pain and undiagnosed depression is going to have an increased level of pain compared to that of an individual receiving treatment for their depression.

As the pain continues and depression and anxiety sets in, pain catastrophizing starts to take hold. “Pain catastrophizing is the tendency to describe a pain experience in more exaggerated terms than the average person, to ruminate on it more, and to feel more helpless about the experience.” Pain catastrophizing leads to increased levels of depression and anxiety, which keeps the vicious cycle going.

Eventually, we will physically stop doing things because we inflate our pain to the point that we truly believe we can’t perform certain activities. This slows care, as individuals who catastrophize pain will often not adhere to treatment plans. Although many of us know we should be doing our physiotherapy exercises, we don’t do them because we are fearful of causing further injury and pain. Research led by Curtin University shows that positive or negative thoughts that people living with chronic illness or pain have about their health impacts their recovery. The paper, published in leading international journal ’Psychological Bulletin’ today, found that people who held strong, negative emotions about their health and viewed it as more serious were more likely to be in denial and experience depression or anxiety, and less likely to get better.

At the same time, researchers have found time and again that people who possess a positive attitude are more likely to lead healthier and longer lives.

As reported by The Mayo Clinic, “positive thinking is crucial in supporting overall health and promoting healing from illness or injury. Clinical studies where patients had been given placebos show what a significant role our thoughts can play. Often these patients respond quite positively to the placebo treatment because they believe that they are getting some form of medicine — the body reacts to this positive thinking.”

A positive attitude sets up positive change. Your positive thoughts help you stay focused on what you need to do to recover.

If you catch yourself drifting off into negative thoughts, stop and immediately think of something positive.

Positive thinking cannot guarantee you perfect health, but it can help bring about significant improvements both mentally and physically.

• • •

Dr. Wayne M. Fichter Jr. is a chiropractor at Natural Spine Solutions. The business is located at 3913 Schreiber Way in Coeur d’Alene, 208-966-4425.

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