Psychogenic pain is a pain disorder in which psychological factors can cause pain, lead to an increase in pain or prolong the pain. Chronic pain is linked to factors like difficulty controlling anger, experiencing intense emotions and having deep fears. Emotions can worsen or lessen physical pain caused by a diagnosed condition, like disease or injury. In other words, studies have demonstrated there is a strong connection between physical pain and emotional pain.
Emotions and Pain are Connected
People are made of physical, emotional and psychological characteristics. When discussing pain, it is important to realize that these three characteristics are interrelated. Pain is a feeling that may be due to physical damage but not always. Pain is comprised of signals sent through the nervous system that act as a warning signal. The signals may be generated by disease, inflammation, or injury, but there are studies indicating pain and emotions are directly connected.
The connection makes sense because everything people experience begins in the brain. As explained by a psychologist, all emotions have a physical (motor) component. In simplest terms, when you feel emotional pain, brain activity leads to physical activity, like muscle activation. In a simple example given, a person stubs their toe on an object but does not take anger out on the person who left the object in the way. Instead, anger is held in check which causes muscle tension. So the emotional pain is felt as neck pain or back pain.
Power of Sadness and Anger
A study was conducted involving women with and without fibromyalgia, a condition that causes pain. In the study, the participants were asked to recall a situation evoking sadness and an event evoking anger, and pain responses were measured. The pain increased and pain tolerance decreased in response to sadness and anger. The result was that sadness and anger amplified pain in women who had and did not have fibromyalgia. However, the stronger the emotion, the stronger the pain response.
When sadness turns into anger, more pain is experienced. Anger and pain are related in two ways. Anger can lead to physical pain, and physical pain leads to anger. This is especially true when there is chronic pain. In a study of patients with chronic back pain who expressed anger, the individuals experienced higher pain intensity. Researchers have also found that people living with chronic pain are often angry at themselves. The anger makes the chronic pain worse, so it becomes a vicious cycle.
With Chronic Pain Emotions Matter
Understanding chronic pain and anger are related is important to pain control. The anger is often due to the pain interfering with normal activities and feelings of unfairness. The effects of chronic pain on emotions include increased feelings of sadness, anger, frustration, anxiety and stress. Increased negative emotions only make the pain worse.
Address the Emotions and the Pain
In many cases, the relationship between emotions and chronic pain means managing pain requires more than treating the physical cause of pain. The emotional aspect should also be addressed through an approach like cognitive behavioral therapy in which you:
- Learn to recognize the triggers for negative emotions and modify your response
- Learn how to have more positive thoughts
- Become less fearful of pain
Regain Control Through Dual Treatments
Addressing both emotions and pain can also help you feel like you have regained some control of your life activities once again. There is no need to hide your true feelings. When talking to your pain management doctor, be sure to share the emotions experienced. The doctor will work with you to develop a holistic treatment plan.