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Are chronic pain and emotion connected?


pain and emotion

Over the past decade, researchers have given more thought to the connection between your emotions and how you experience pain. They have begun to adopt a more evolved view, moving beyond the traditional notion that negative emotions are unhealthy and must be rationally controlled.

A research review published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology suggests there is a strong link between emotion and chronic pain. Chronic pain is any type of long-term pain you experience over the course of at least three months, in contrast to acute pain, which is sudden, sharp and short-term.

The article, Pain and Emotion: A Biopsychosocial Review of Recent Research, notes that pain is the most common symptom reported to health care providers. As a Pain Management Specialist, I see patients who experience various kinds of pain. They may have pain related to their cancer treatment or from the cancer itself, along with emotional pain, such as sadness, unexpressed anger, shame and guilt.

Patients with chronic pain can have increased anxiety, depression, anger, and feelings of loneliness or hopelessness. Research suggests that high levels of pain are related to emotional stress, as well as limited emotional awareness, expression and processing.

Chronic pain can become time-consuming for patients when they become intensely focused on their current pain, pain medications and their emotional response to having chronic pain. Patients can put so much time and energy into their pain issues that they lose track of their personal life, work life, family life and, importantly, their quality of life. This focus can actually exacerbate the pain and lead to a cycle of depression, anxiety and hopelessness, on top of the debility patients may experience in performing everyday activities such as getting out of bed or doing household chores.

According to the research review, “Emotions are integral to the conceptualization, assessment and treatment of persistent pain.” At our hospitals, we take a balanced and integrative approach to pain management. Each patient’s care team includes a variety of specialists to treat the whole person, including a medical oncologist, care manager, pain management specialist, rehabilitation specialist, dietitian, naturopathic medicine provider, mind-body therapist, spiritual counselor and other experts.

Involving an entire team of experts to work with and for the patient is the ideal way to help patients manage their chronic pain, emotions and functionality. Doing so also can give patients renewed hope for their future and a better quality of life.

Learn more about integrative cancer care.

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