A new study, published in the November 2008 issue of the journal Current Biology* just blew my mind.
Researchers found that just by changing the way subjects looked at an achy limb, they could affect the degree of pain experienced AND the swelling of the limb.
This is pretty crazy stuff, but is just more evidence of the mind/body connection.
Here is the study in more detail:
Researchers found subjects who all experienced chronic pain in one of their arms. They then had them all do 10 hand movements that would trigger pain in the aggravated arm. The movements were such that the subject could watch their own hand movements.
They had the subjects do these movements under four different conditions:
1. With No visual Manipulation (control 1) 2. While looking through lenses that did not affect the size of their arm (control 2) 3. While looking through lenses that magnified the size of their arm 4. While looking through lenses that minimized the size of their arm
All of the subjects experienced some pain and swelling under all conditions, but the differences were significant under the different conditions, and truly amazing.
The lenses caused the subjects to see the arm as bigger experience more pain and swelling than the control groups, while the lenses that caused the subjects to see the arm as smaller causes less pain AND less swelling than the control groups.
Researchers still can't tell us why exactly this is happening but some guesses have to do with something called the, "top-down" effect of body image on body tissues. Meaning that the experience of pain is bi-directional (works both ways) between the actual cause of the pain and the perception of the pain causing stimulus.
Another related theory from one of the study's authors, Dr. Mosley, is that protective responses—including the experience of pain—are activated according to the brain's implicit perception of danger level. "If it looks bigger, it looks sorer and more swollen," Moseley said. "Therefore, the brain acts to protect it."
Either way, I find the whole experiment fascinating. It is just one more piece of evidence of the brain's role in how we experience pain.
More Information on the Brain's Role in How We Experience Pain
If you are interested in knowing more about the brain's role in how pain is experienced, we have downloadable recordings of Dr. Maggie Phillips (a world renowned expert on mind/body healing) going into great detail on the subject.
http://www.hypnosisnetwork.com/downloads/?E398Q This is free and consists of 5 mini lectures explaining how pain works and a mini session called, "Using Mental Focus to Shift Pain" that acutally guides you through a semi-hypnotic session where you actually shift the experience of pain using your mind.
The lectures are kind of cerebral (boring to some people) but I personally think they are interesting! And if you or a loved one is experiencing pain and/or taking dangerous medications, then it is more than worth listening to.
If you enjoy the lectures and are experiencing physical pain, Dr. Phillips created a four CD audio program where you can use hypnosis and other body/mind modalities to reduce and sometimes eliminate chronic pain.
Important: Please listen to the free interviews before making this decision. It is not a miracle solution and if you don't find the interviews interesting, you probably will not have the patience to use the program to great effect.
If you do have the patience to actually do the sessions and learn about how pain works (this is part of the process) then it will improve the quality of your life pretty dramatically.
While we are on the subject of pain, my good friend Jesse Cannone recently wrote an article on how back pain actually shrinks the brain!
Instead of co-opting his article, I think it is only fair that I send you to his site to read it. He has a really good back pain product that deals with the physical causes of back pain and is a great guy to know.
How Pain Shrinks The Brain
Well, here is to a great December! Please comment about this article and any of the links in it. I am interested in this subject. Please refrain from overt product pitches, but I would be interested to know of any interesting solutions for pain management, whether they are nutritional or physical exercises.
* source: Visual distortion of a limb modulates the pain and swelling evoked by movement G. Lorimer Moseley, Timothy J. Parsons, Charles Spence Current Biology – 25 November 2008 (Vol. 18, Issue 22, pp. R1047-R1048)