Have you ever heard of psychosomatic pain? It’s a condition where your symptoms are caused by your mind alone — there is no physical injury.
And unfortunately, a lot of people who experience pain without any specific diagnosable cause are often told that they have psychosomatic pain.
Which is taken to mean that they’re “making it all up.”
While it’s true that your brain can get tricked into feeling pain that’s not really there, that doesn’t necessarily mean your symptoms aren’t real.
So if you’re experiencing frustrating pain and are only being given vague diagnostics that describe symptoms but don’t tell you anything about the root cause, you might be wondering: can this pain be all in my head?
But here are three reasons why psychosomatic pain isn’t just made up:
- The Important Thing No One Is Telling You About Pain
- How Can I Keep My Diagnosis From Creeping Into My Belief System?
- What the heck is going on in there?! 3 Reasons Your Body Holds onto Tension
Your Brain Makes Pain
Do you know how pain sensations actually work? While you feel pain at the site of an injury, that’s not where the sensation comes from.
Pain is your brain’s interpretation of data sent in by the body.
When you hold your hand over a hot stove, for example, sensory nerves convey info to your spinal cord and brain where the sensation of pain is registered and perceived.
Your brain interprets the data “tissue is burning” and produces the sensation of pain to motivate you away from the threat — in this case a hot stove.
This is pretty simple in this basic case of cause and effect.
But electrical signals can get scrambled for many reasons. Your brain can get confused about what it’s “hearing” from your sensory nerves and think you’re in danger when you’re not — thus making you feel pain.
This is what happens in cases “psychosomatic pain.” It’s not that you’re crazy or making things up. The part of your brain that interprets sensory input from your body is just off kilter.
Chronic stress can contribute to an increase in perception of pain, so if you’ve been up against it for a while, that’s definitely a factor.
Pain Can Become Your Brain’s Habit
Once your body experiences pain, it’s more sensitive to the sensation.
You’ll start to hurt more easily and from seemingly minor incidents that wouldn’t cause other people much pain at all.
This phenomenon is called “central sensitization” and it’s far from being psychosomatic pain.
Since as stated above pain is a sensation generated by the brain and not stemming from your muscles, tendons and bones at all, a lot of pain can get wonky when your nervous system is out of balance.
This seems to be the case in central sensitization where your brain almost starts to hallucinate pain symptoms as a result of normal touch and pressure.
Again, while this is happening in your brain, it’s a physiological result of crossed wires between mind and body — NOT a sign that you’ve lost your marbles.
Your Brain Uses Pain to Self-Locate
Amputees often experience phantom pain in missing limbs. Since there are no nerves to convey sensation to the person’s brain, this is most definitely an example of “psychosomatic pain.”
But there’s a catch…
Amputees aren’t making it up. Imaging shows that their brains still maintain sensory-motor maps of the missing limbs which activate when a person “moves” their phantom limb.
What causes this phantom limb pain? Scientists aren’t totally certain. But what they conclude is that a missing limb can’t send data to the brain.
In the absence of data, your brain realizes that something is wrong and produces pain signals…for a limb that’s no longer there.
It gets weirder…
Using a mirror to visually simulate the lost limb, a person can trick their brain into perceiving the missing body part — and the phantom pain stops.
So it seems that when body parts are “lost” to your brain — as in, your brain stops perceiving sensory input — it generates pain almost as a “map” of the missing area.
Here’s why this is important for you, a non-amputee…
Psychosomatic Pain And Dissociation
Many people are dissociated from their physical selves, meaning they’ve cut off feeling in their bodies. This happens for many reasons — trauma, body image issues, accidents and injuries, charged emotional experiences, etc.
And, of course, my favorite: you’ve been domesticated by our culture to ignore your body.
In our society, it’s the intellect that gets all the shine. Your body is just a dumb meat suit that’s constantly malfunctioning in inconvenient and embarrassing ways.
That means that physical sensations get ignored, dismissed and disregarded.
You turn down the volume until you can’t feel yourself.
You might do this to a particular area of your body — a shoulder, say, or a hip — or you may just shut down physical sensation altogether.
In any case, when you “turn off” the signals from your body, your brain senses that something is wrong…and it sounds the alarm with pain.
Which you try to stretch, massage and possibly even medicate away.
What actually seems to work, though — at least in my clinical experience — is reconnecting the brain to the body and restoring sensory input.
Basically, hooking up the data flow again between mind and body — getting the brain to perceive your physical sensations again.
If this sounds complicated, it’s not. Anyone can do it, and the results are pretty quick, too.
As a bonus, I’ve also found that emotional symptoms such as anxiety and depression tend to dissipate along with the pain and tension — although everyone is different and your mileage may vary.
These are the practices I cover in my Posture Rehab program.
It’s not just another how-to-stretch system, but rather a road map back to yourself. It helps you hook your brain back up to your body so your nervous system can stop freaking out about pain…and you can rest easy knowing you’re not losing your mind and making up symptoms that aren’t there.
Trust me. I believe you. The pain is real.
But the cause isn’t.
Posture Rehab can help.2