A. Your GP
B. A physiotherapist or chiropractor
C. A psychologist
The logical answer is A or B. It makes sense to expect that, because the discomfort and limitations of pain are experienced in the body, the cause and solution must also be physical. However, pain is not that simple. All pain is a complex interplay of factors and is largely generated in the brain. Then there are negative thoughts and feelings around the effects of pain, which can make the experience worse and even promote anxiety and/or depression. On the flip side, in some cases, pain is caused or exacerbated BY psychological factors and conditions such as anxiety and depression. And then there is pain perception, which may be impacted by thoughts and behaviours. The matrix becomes even more complex in chronic pain (pain that lasts beyond three months affects an estimated 35% of Australians). Enter answer C.
It is increasingly recognised that psychological talk therapy combined with hands-on treatment and exercises may significantly improve both the physical and mental effects of pain. This is the theme of this year’s Psychology Week. Here are a few ways a psychologist may assist with pain.
1. Help to manage negative thoughts and feelings such as frustration/despair due to limitations caused by pain (e.g. not being able to participate in activities from cooking to sport or leisure pursuits and work). This may help to prevent helplessness and reduce the risk of conditions such as anxiety and depression.
2. Assist with strategies to manage the pain experience and pain perception.
3. Identify and address any psychological/mental health factors that may be contributing to pain.
For tip sheets on managing pain (including pain in sports), visit the @auspsychologicalsociety website.