The Impact Your Mindset Has On Your Pain

The Impact Your Mindset Has On Your Pain
July 17 08:17 2018 Print This Article

Pain is felt in the body, that’s true, but you might be surprised to learn pain is not entirely a physical problem. The truth is, all pain has three components(1):

  • There’s biological pain, e.g what’s happening in our body – ‘Bio’
  • Psychological pain e.g. what’s happening in the mind – ‘Psycho’
  • Social pain e.g what’s happening around us ‘Social’

Even though you’ve pulled a muscle or strained your back lifting a heavy object, and you’re sensibly using osteopathy to help you recover it might be hard to understand how the pain can be anywhere but in your back. But by the time you’ve felt the pain, your brain has filtered the sensory information from biases and preconceptions such as ‘bio’ ‘psycho’ and ‘social’.

What does it all mean?

Well, if you hear your grandpa saying his back hurts because he’s old and his osteopathy practitioner says quite correctly that it’s due to ‘wear and tear’ your brilliant brain uses this info to produce the pain ‘in your back’. There’s a name for this – neurotag – and it’s a kind of brain filing system. For instance, if you hear, see, or read something about lower back pain it’s filed in the brain under ‘low back pain’ and, the filing cabinet can cross reference. This means when you hear Grandpa complaining, your brain files ‘old’ in the ‘low back pain’ file and ‘low back pain’ in the ‘old’ file. Then, when you hurt your back the sensory nerves fire rapidly, bombarding your spinal cord with danger messages, and your brain drags up whatever files are stored there which can include e.g:

  • Danger in body/lower back
  • Low back pain
  • Wear and tear
  • Old
  • Cannot move
  • Won’t ever be the same again

And over time, this file fills up and means even a ‘simple’ lower back strain is not quite so simple.

Who is More Vulnerable to Chronic Pain?

Some people are at higher risk of developing chronic pain from even a benign back injury even though they’re having osteopathy for relief. The determining factors are the psychosocial elements involved. Remember, chronic pain was once acute. But in treating your pain, what matters apart from having osteopathy, is your mindset. There are usually two kinds of mindsets – one leads to a good recovery, the other to a not so good recovery.

Mindsets – The Two Types

Our mindsets are either ‘growth’ or ‘fixed’ according to psychologist Carol Dweck who concluded that those with a ‘fixed mindset’ believe the intelligence they were born with e.g. is all they get. And those with a ‘growth mindset’ believe the opposite, that their abilities can grow and improve. Applying this to pain, it’s easy to see how a person with a fixed mindset will think the pain will never go, despite expert osteopathy, because e.g. Grandpa had it i.e it’s genetic. Or, a person with a growth mindset believes the pain will resolve.

Can You Change Your Mindset?

Those with growth mindsets believe yes, but people with fixed mindsets might not believe it. Still, the science is undisputed: our brains are plastic and they can keep on changing and growing new cells as long as we live.


(1) 1. Merskey H, Bogduk N. Classification of chronic pain, IASP Task Force on Taxonomy. IASP Press; Seattle: 1994.


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Anna Stinson
Anna Stinson

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