This is a continuation of my Integrative Pain Management series, based on content selected from my chapter of the book Integrative Pain Management: Massage, Movement, and Mindfulness Based Approaches.
See also: Part 1.
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Pain is not just a physical sensation, it is also a psychological phenomenon. This is particularly true of chronic pain, which can go on long after a physical injury has healed. The interplay between mind and body when it comes to pain is extremely complex, but there is one thing about it that is dead simple: the power of the mind cannot be ignored.
An amazing example of this power is a condition called Phantom Limb Pain. This effect can occur when an injured or paralyzed limb is amputated, but the amputee continues to experience pain as though the limb were still there. Obviously, when a limb is amputated, the nerves that were responsible for sensing pain in that limb are also gone. However, the brain has 'learned' over months or years of real pain, that the limb, even after it is gone, is in pain. it isn't until the unconscious mind can 'unlearn' that the limb is in pain, and instead learn that the limb is gone, that the chronic pain will go away.
This technique of experiencing the pain and then learning to release it via the mind is one of the main reasons that integrated strategies for managing pain have so much potential. Mind-body techniques like Tai Chi target pain in both the body and the mind. A dedicated mind-body pain management routine can simultaneously reduce pain caused by the tissues, as well as pain caused by a learned psychological pattern, or other mental obstacle.
Next week, we'll discuss how Eastern philosophies reconcile the split between mind and body into the flow of energy, or qi, in the body, and how that relates to our experience of pain.