6 ways to use your mind to control pain

By on August 14, 2017
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(Harvard Health Publication) Relaxation, meditation, positive thinking, and other mind-body techniques can help reduce your need for pain medication.

Drugs are very good at getting rid of pain, but they often have unpleasant, and even serious, side effects when used for a long time. If you have backache, fibromyalgia, arthritis, or other chronic pain that interferes with your daily life, you may be looking for a way to relieve discomfort that doesn’t involve drugs. Some age-old techniques—including meditation and yoga—as well as newer variations may help reduce your need for pain medication.

Research suggests that because pain involves both the mind and the body, mind-body therapies may have the capacity to alleviate pain by changing the way you perceive it. How you feel pain is influenced by your genetic makeup, emotions, personality, and lifestyle. It’s also influenced by past experience. If you’ve been in pain for a while, your brain may have rewired itself to perceive pain signals even after the signals aren’t being sent anymore.

The Benson-Henry Institute for Mind-Body Medicine at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital specializes in helping people learn techniques to alleviate stress, anxiety, and pain. Dr. Ellen Slawsby, an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School who works with patients at the Benson-Henry Institute, suggests learning several techniques so that you can settle on the ones that work best for you. “I tend to think of these techniques as similar to flavors in an ice cream store. Depending on your mood, you might want a different flavor of ice cream—or a different technique,” Dr. Slawsby says. “Practicing a combination of mind-body skills increases the effectiveness of pain relief.”

The following techniques can help you take your mind off the pain and may help to override established pain signals.

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