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Is My Pain Condition Real? Why Chronic Pain Can Seem Psychosomatic

Conditions that cause chronic pain can sometimes be difficult to pinpoint or trace back to a physical origin. With fibromyalgia, for example, the pain reaction might be out of proportion with any physical explanation of the pain sensation or its severity. For that reason, this or similar pain without a readily recognizable physical cause may be branded as psychosomatic.

One of the problems with the concept of psychosomatic pain stems from interpretations of the word. Since all or part of the pain is thought to originate from the brain or nervous system, there’s an inference that psychosomatic pain is somehow not real, is imagined, and is not actually being experienced by the patient. Yet this type of chronic pain is quite real, even if there’s not a physical attribution or source.

Cause-and-effect medicine

One drawback of traditional medicine is the diagnosis-treatment relationship, an attitude that’s often deeply ingrained in allopathic (conventional) medicine. To simplify the idea, your doctor needs a diagnosis to administer appropriate treatment. However, there are situations where conventional medicine simply can’t identify the origins of your pain.

For example, neurosurgeons often use deductive reasoning based on symptoms and patient reactions to make educated guesses about the location of nerve irritation. This is necessary when diagnostic imaging can’t locate a physical condition likely to cause the complaint and when all other conservative treatment options have failed. It’s one reason why surgery is often a last resort.

Tension myositis syndrome

First described in the mid-1970s, tension myositis syndrome, or TMS, connects repressed emotions with the physical effects of chronic pain. The theory of TMS goes like this: As negative emotions occur, these are either resolved and subsequently dissipate, or they’re repressed, causing an internal tension. Repression can be an effective way of processing information during, for example, a traumatic injury or emergency.

Diagnosing TMS can be difficult without a strong patient-physician relationship, and even then, repression of the underlying trauma may still make it hard to reveal a connection with chronic pain.

Responses to stimulation

Further clouding origin and perception of pain is individual response to pain. For example, imagine a needle pressed against your skin. One person may not be particularly bothered by the sensation, while another feels a sharp sting.

Chronic pain itself can change the way your nervous system processes pain. Ongoing pain may cause your brain to become more sensitized to recurring or persisting pain in a particular area.

Contemporary perceptions

While in past the diagnosis-treatment connection dominated approaches to chronic pain, today’s medical community isn’t as ready to dismiss psychosomatic pain. Westside Pain Specialists is a good example of changing attitudes in today’s medicine. Pain can be its own reason for treatment, since the effects of any sort of pain can interfere with healing and quality of life. If you’re living with chronic pain, contact our office by phone, or request an appointment online. Let me and my staff at Westside Pain Specialists in Beverly Hills, California, help you find the relief you need.

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