Phantom Pain

I still sometimes struggle to explain to people how I got better from my long-term battle with chronic pain. To say that I suffered with a case of psychosomatic pain seems to over simplify it. And it also -- to some people -- might make me sound nuts.

I've written all about it in a page on this blog, called The Whole Story

But if you don't have time to read that, to make a long story short, I initially had very severe neck pain that seemed to be caused by poor posture. I saw an amazing physio who helped to improve my posture, which helped said neck pain -- for a little while. But then my body seemed to revolt. I suddenly threw out my back, and after "fixing" it with my physio's help, the pain moved to my knees. It eventually came full circle and moved back to my neck again, which was my clue that something else was going on. 

I eventually found an answer in the work of Dr. John Sarno, whose book The Mind-Body Prescription, helped me to recover into a pain-free life. 

But the thing that I try to explain to people who don't really know about psychosomatic pain is that it doesn't mean that the pain isn't real. It just means that your brain is cleverly creating the pain as a distraction. But oh, it is very real. 

And I was surprised to be reminded recently of a very good example of psychosomatic pain that can probably help those who are not familiar with this phenomenon to understand how it can feel real. 

On an episode of Bear Gryll's The Island (which I recorded and am now binge watching, so no spoilers please!) there was a very capable British army woman who had lost part of her leg in an explosion in combat. One night on the island there were very dramatic thunderstorms, which triggered her post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The next day she experienced a very severe episode of phantom limb pain. The two doctors on the show discussed pain relief with her and both she and the two doctors came to the conclusion that pain medication would not help at all. All three of them seemed to agree that phantom limb pain is psychological in nature. 

But to hear her cries of anguish, one would not believe that the brain could create that kind of pain. However, it made total sense to me after experiencing psychological pain myself. If I can start to feel the twinges of shoulder pain when I am given a difficult work assignment, then PTSD could definitely have a similar -- if not much greater -- impact. 

Unfortunately this brave woman had to leave the island due to this severe pain and distress. But this can be a very good reminder to us all of the power of the brain. The bad news is that the brain can be extremely underhanded, creating all kinds of pain and distraction, but the good news is that there is a way through and eventually out. And if you are experiencing chronic unexplained pain, then if I can better, so can you*. 

*Please never hesitate to reach out to me personally on mindbodyandscroll [at] to talk if you are suffering from chronic pain. 

Photo credit: Back Pain via photopin (license)

Photo credit: Beachcomber via photopin (license)

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