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MRI Scans Show Which Mental Exercises Can Reduce Pain

I got a call the other day from a new client.  He and I had recently finished our initial evaluation and we were all set to begin working together next week.

He had bad news.

Early last week he was swinging a golf club and he suddenly felt a deep, sharp pain that brought him to his knees.  The pain was so bad that his friends had to literally carry him back to the cart. Since then he has been in constant agony.

I advised him to go to the doctor and get it checked out to confirm the extent of the injury.  He did and it was shown he had fractured his 9th rib.  Talk about a shock.

The worst of it is that this type of injury is not the kind that is very treatable.  You can’t cast it, you can’t put it in a sling, and you can’t give it the type of care other bones might get if they had the same injury.  He was beyond frustrated.  Not only had he been dealing with chronic back pain for years, but now he has this to deal with on top of it.

He told me on the phone yesterday that despite it being almost a week since it happened, he still cannot move his body without sharp pains that are sometimes excruciating.

He asked if he should still come and see me and I told him to wait.  I said in the meantime to focus on 3 things.

1. Deep breathing

2. Slow and gentle body movements

3. Mental exercises to help lessen the pain

The first two suggestions seemed to make sense to him but I could tell the third one somewhat surprised him.

As I went on to explain, there has been substantial evidence that has shown that pain perception, even that which is associated with a serious structural injury, can often be reduced (sometimes dramatically) with focused mental exercise and training.

Most people can somewhat relate to this. I’d venture to say that most of us have had the experience where something in our body hurts and as we continue to focus on it, it feels worse.  Some have even had the experience in the reverse, where by distracting yourself from the thought of the pain, you’ve made yourself feel better.  This is just one example of mental exercises that affect pain perception.

Recently, Psychology Today published an article describing something that was discovered by scientists about the areas of the brain that activate to help mediate pain perception.  This discovery helps make sense of what people can do to alleviate pain via mental training.

Before I share with you the findings, let me first share with you the briefest neurophysiology lesson you will ever get from any teacher.

Your nervous system is made up of your brain, your spinal cord and your peripheral nerves.  These act as cords transferring electrical signals down to your body from your brain, and transferring electrical signals back up to your brain from your body.

From what we know, it appears that when we are in pain, there is electrical energy being sent to the brain alerting us to this.  However, what was seen in the study is that the brains perception of the intensity of this signal changed when the participants used varying mental imagery and cognitive exercises.  These exercises largely focused on changing the way they interpreted the pain and the meaning they gave it.

It is a fascinating article and I won’t spoil it by giving away the specifics of the study but in this article you will read the exact commands they gave the participants that either made the pain worse or better.  It is truly an interesting read even if you’re not in pain.

Check it out by clicking here- Pain Control Article

The mind is an amazing thing.  It is always working for us or against us.  The more we understand about it, the more we can control it.  The more can control it, the better we feel and the better decisions we make.

Does that sound like a good aspiration to you too?

Have a blessed day!

Chris Vercelli  MATm, CPT

Founder: Non-Fiction Fitness

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