The Role Emotions Play in Chronic Pain

6 June 2017, 5:07 pm
Published in Blog
Read 3522 times

"WHY do I hurt?"

Obviously, in my line of work I get asked that question a lot. But, what is true is that the answers to that question often vary. Sure we see structural dysfunctions that cause pain--an elevated left hip causing right ankle pain, for example--but what if we dig a little deeper? What if your pain is directly tied to an emotional trauma or stress?

In my experience as a therapist, I've seen it too many times. Let me tell you a story to help explain what I'm talking about.

Judy (not her real name) came in to one of our clinics with debilitating shoulder pain. The pain had reared its head several months prior to her coming in, and she was--along with all the other experts she had seen--stumped. The shoulder capsule itself checked out fine. The rotator cuff wasn't torn, there was no impingement in the joint, and for all intents and purposes, she had a "healthy" shoulder...except for the excruciating pain.

She was a swimmer, and had been for some 25 years (she was in her 60s) and wondered if all that time in the pool had "finally taken its toll" on her shoulder joint. I didn't think it was swimming's fault (after all, she was swimming with both shoulders and had been for 25 years. Why would the pain just show up now, and only on one side?), so I set out on a journey to discover exactly why she hurt.

We sat in my office for about 30 minutes, asking each other questions. She asked about Egoscue and the role we would play in eliminating her pain. I asked about her condition and why she believed she hurt. The conversation of course went to swimming, and that is when she blamed her favorite sport.

"But, you've been swimming for 25 years. Why do you think the pain just started six months ago?" I asked.

"Well," said Judy, "I don't know. I guess I haven't thought about it like that. I just know that it has been hurting since January, and I assumed it was due to too much time in the pool. But, I've been able to swimg pain free for 25 years up until that point."

"So, if it's not swimming's fault. Why do you believe you hurt?"

"Well...I guess I'm not sure." Judy said.

"What happened in January?" I asked in an attempt to get to the real reason she was hurting.

"My shoulder started hurting!" Judy said with frustration in her voice.

"No, Judy. What happened? What changed in January. Away from the pool. In life. In your social circles. What happened?"

And that's when it hit her. Judy's face dropped and turned a bit pale in color as if she had just seen a ghost. She explained to me that she had just been through a very complicated divorce. It was an emergency situation and she told me she was literally married one day and divorced the next, and she had spent the last few months curled up on the couch in an attempt to cope with what was going on in her "new" life.

Bingo.

That's the real reason.

That's why she hurt.

It wasn't swimming's fault. She was in an emotional tailspin (rightly so), and trying to make sense of it all was having a profound impact on her physically. Although it's not my job to help Judy through the emotional side of things, it IS my job to help her discover the true cause of her pain. I fully believe that if we hadn't uncovered the emotional cause of the physical pain, there wouldn't have been enough e-cises in the world to fully eliminate her shoulder pain. I believe she would have gotten better, sure, but 100% pain free? I doubt it. Not if the emotional side of things hadn't been uncovered.

Don't believe me that the physical and emotional are connected? Think about the physical position your body takes when you're sad and depressed! Have you ever seen someone sad and depressed walking with a perfectly upright posture? I didn't think so!

We say it every day, but it bears repeating: The body is a unit. And I'm not simply referring to the muscles and bones. Everything is connected, and the sooner all the pieces of the puzzle are put together, the sooner you reach perfect health. You have to ensure that the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual sides of you are all working in sync. The better they are as a unit, the better you are as a unit!

QUESTION: Have you given any thought to the emotional side of your chronic pain?

As always, thanks for sharing these posts with your friends and family (it's easy, just click below)! Don't forget to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter. Also, join me (almost) every Thursday at 2:00 PM EST for "Egoscue LIVE!" on our Facebook page. You can follow Pete on Twitter, and you can follow me there as well. You can also follow me on Instagram, too! Let's connect!

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# Heidi 2017-06-07 01:51
I love that you believe in and connect the emotional with the physical! I'm curious though what you're treatment plan was after making that discovery and did her shoulder pain improve or disappear?
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# John 2017-06-19 17:50
We stayed focused on her posture--nothing more, nothing less. At Egoscue, that's the only thing we do.

Once she realized the connection she was able to work through the emotional pain on her own as we tackled the physical pain. Over the following weeks her pain went away all together!

Thanks,
John
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