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Chronic pain: five false myths

Feeling pain in some part of our body: back, neck, head… is completely normal. However, when it appears for periods of at least three months, it is known as chronic or persistent pain, a disease that 17% of the Spanish population suffers from.

Chronic pain: five false myths

Patient with lower back pain. EFE: Toni Albir

Chronic pain is more common than we think, as are the false myths or beliefs surrounding it. In fact, according to Spanish Society of Health Directorsbetween the 40 and the 80% of medical consultations are related to pain.

Coinciding with the World Pain Dayon October 17, the Open University of Catalonia (UOC) through the psychologist specialist in persistent pain and professor of the Studies of Psychology and Education Sciences, Rubén Nietohas collected five false myths related to chronic or persistent pain.

Five false beliefs related to chronic pain

“Pain is a subjective experience that shapes the brain based on the interaction of multiple factors, and among these psychological factors play a very important role,” explains the psychologist.

Alongside Rubén Nieto, she has also participated psychologist Mayte Serrat. Between the two, they point to a series of myths that have been generated around chronic pain over the years.

1. If there is no physical cause, the person is making up the pain

When a person suffers from pain, but there is no easily identifiable cause, one may come to think that the pain is imaginary.

However, as the two psychologists clarify: “pain is not usually invented or created voluntarily. The pain is always real and it is generated regardless of what the person may think or think.”

The psychologist also adds that this can be explained because it has always been understood that the more damage there is, the more pain is felt, but thanks to neuroscience we know that this is not the case.

“It is possible to have pain without a physical body and it is exactly as real as if you had that physical part,” he says.

2. The pain is physical or pathological

According to experts, pain does not have a direct relationship with the amount of physical damage that can be suffered, but is a brain opinion related to the amount of threat or danger that he interprets.

As the specialist mentions: “Polarizing pain as physical or psychological makes no sense.” Although the psychological factors are part of the experience of pain, it cannot be categorized exclusively as psychological.

Even so, depending on the patient’s mood, the feeling of pain can vary, since it is not the same to face it with a feeling of sadness or stress, which could even lead to emergence of what both call com “catastrophic thoughts”.

Chronic pain myths
The belief that chronic pain is a women’s thing is false. EFE/Salvador Les

3. Nothing can be done to help lessen the pain

Feeling pain when some part of our body is in danger is normal, and even desirable, but when it no longer fulfills this function of survival and protection, it ceases to fulfill its purpose.

“Pain does not necessarily imply that there is damage to the tissues, but the brain has learned to associate certain sensations and perceptions with pain. It’s about teaching the brain to reconceptualize these relationships, reeducate it. And this reconceptualization can be done through education in the neuroscience of pain, explaining the mechanisms by which associations occur and through different techniques and exercises”, says Serrat.

In this way, it is possible to avoid pain even when there is actual damage, by teaching the brain to create new concepts of association that allow us to generate functional pain for our survival, and to eliminate that persistent pain that no longer has a specific cause.

4. Chronic or persistent pain is a woman thing

The association of certain diseases in the female sex, as in the case of the fibromyalgiait can lead to think that chronic or persistent pain is an experience that only women suffer.

On this, the experts clarify that there is a problem of infradiagnosis of diseases such as fibromyalgia in the male sex, either because of the social stigmas that stick to the feminine nature of the disease itself or the stereotype of men’s strength in the face of pain.

5. The environment of the person with chronic or persistent pain cannot do anything to help

On the contrary, the environment of the person suffering from chronic pain, can influence through their behavior the factors that are involved in pain modulation.

The solution is not for the person with pain to stop taking charge of activities. Well, as both psychologists maintain, avoidance is not a good strategy, it is necessary confrontationbecause if not, subsequently, this person will have more difficulties in carrying out any activity.

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