Can Mind Power REALLY Stop Pain?
Laid on a bed of nails or run 21 miles lately? PROBABLY NOT. But you do not need to be a holy man or marathon runner to use mind power to block out pain.
“Pain is an emotional reaction to an evaluation in one’s head,” said Ruediger Fabian, president of German Pain Aid, an organization based in the town of Gruenendeich. “The sensation of pain is subjective,” he said.
As explained by Professor Rolf-Detlef Treede, president of the Boppard-based German Society for the Study of Pain (DGSS), sensory receptors transmit the signal to the spinal cord. The central nervous system then passes it on to the brain, which processes it in any of various ways.
“The brain has to decide what’s important and what’s not,” Fabian noted. Pain is a protective mechanism of the body, he explained, and a pain stimulus on its way to the brain always takes precedence over other stimuli. But a pain stimulus can be waylaid before it gets there, for example by medication. Anyone who goes to the dentist’s knows that. “Local anesthesia prevents the pain stimulus from reaching the brain,” Treede said.
More important, however, is how the brain processes a pain stimulus that has arrived. “The brain can learn that a certain pain isn’t so important,” Treede explained. If someone scrapes an arm, he said, the injury often looks bad but the injured person knows it is harmless.
The brain can also grow accustomed to pain, Treede said. “Like it gets used to the hot cup of coffee in the morning, for example.”
Through training, people can influence how their brains evaluate pain, according to Professor Walter Zieglgaensberger from the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry in Munich. Pain sufferers need to take an active part in this process.
“The brain has no delete key,” Zieglgaensberger said, noting that every pain leaves tracks in the brain. After drug treatment, therefore, it is important that patients do things that they used to avoid because of pain, he advised. This causes the brain to overlay old memories of pain with new, positive links. “The fear of pain is worse than the pain itself in such cases.”