Chronic pain is very complicated, but most of us hope for quick and simple solutions. You may not realize chronic pain is a disease unto itself and may be associated with heightened stress, anxiety, and malaise. In fact, the causes of chronic pain can’t always be directly identified through a medical exam or an X-ray or MRI. When an “obvious” cause for chronic pain can’t be found and treatments such as medication, surgery, and injections haven’t been helpful, consider mind-body focused treatment.

According to well-established research and clinical observations, patients may experience pain and/or have an increase in pain with depression, anger, anxiety, trauma, unrelenting stress, substance abuse and/or medication side effects. All those things change how the brain affects the body and how the body affects the brain. Patients need treatment that goes beyond medication, injections, and surgery to address these complicated issues. Of course, this does not mean that medical problems, to include pain, are not real. The individual must be treated as a complete person, both physically and psychologically. Treatment must integrate medical and psychological interventions to treat the entire individual. Thus, mind-body interventions for pain are unfamiliar to many, but they are often very effective and are worthy of consideration.

Mind-body treatment interventions can include biofeedback, breathing strategies, meditation, cognitive-behavioral therapy, and progressive muscle relaxation, among others. So, how do they work?

During many of these exercises, we can obtain information directly from sensors attached to the body. We can see how different exercises – like breathing, mental focus, muscle retraining, and/or reshaping of behavior, affects the brain and body, and then the patient can start to use the most effective techniques to take control of their behavior and how that affects their pain. These options enable patients to better control their nervous system and body response, and in return their pain levels can be better managed without the need for additional medication or invasive procedures.

In one treatment, Alpha Stim, a small “micro-current” stimulator assists in directing the brain into an electrical state known as “Alpha.” This brainwave state is a highly effective state of relaxation known to induce physiological and psychological relaxation. That means this device can help people relax and reduce pain even if they are unable to do so on their own or have failed to learn relaxation strategies via other methods.

One of the newest mind-body interventions relates to the use of quantitative electroencephalographic neurofeedback (qEEG). Electrical mapping and modification of real-time brain activity is now possible. Conditions such as depression, anxiety, attention-deficit disorder, chronic pain, and even brain injuries can be positively impacted by this new technology. Full color, three-dimensional whole brain maps are created of the patient’s brain, and that information helps to determine areas of clinical interest and remediation.

With these options available, which types of pain conditions can these methods potentially help? Mind-body treatment has been found to be effective with migraine and tension headaches, neuropathic pain conditions, reflex sympathetic dystrophy, trigeminal pain, cancer-related pain its side effects from chemotherapy and radiation treatments, fibromyalgia, and some body inflammatory conditions (e.g., arthritis) and other immune-related disorders such as lupus. And, mind-body treatment has now been found to be effective in some cases of tinnitus (e.g., ringing in the ears).

Treatment success is defined as improved quality of life, reduction of pain intensity, and return to a normal degree of function and routine.

Dr. John Kreymer is a psychologist with Mercy Clinic Pain Management – Surgery Center in Springfield, Mo.


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