The connection between physical and emotional pain, or distress, can occur in either direction. If someone is experiencing intense physical pain, emotional distress may follow. Similarly, if a person is experiencing intense emotional distress (worry, fear) they may exhibit physical symptoms. Some refer to this as psychogenic pain, or when physical pain is linked to emotional stress or caused by psychological factors (including depression and anxiety). While there are several options for treating a person with physical pain that is the cause of an injury or inflammation, treating psychogenic pain is more difficult as it requires a shift in the mind of the patient. Below, we explore the relationship between physical pain and our emotional health in greater detail.
While some argue that the physical effects of emotional pain are “all in our heads,” it is important to note that people are experiencing real heachaches, real physical pain, real digestive distress, etc. even though the origins of the pain may be emotional. There is research backing the notion that emotional trauma could have as much responsibility for chronic pain as physical injuries do. When physical pain does not subside or completely end, there may be emotional work that needs addressing. Studies have found that anxiety and stress cause our muscles to tense up and constrict, which over time causes the muscles to become fatigued and inefficient, often leading to physical pain – both acute and chronic.
If our bodies have fully processed a physically painful event, our mind may still be dealing with the aftermath. When our mind cannot come to a resolution, the nervous system could still be creating stress hormones, keeping our bodies in a heightened state, which can cause lingering physical effects.
If you are experiencing physical pain, and have not been able to determine a physical cause for it – such as a torn ligament, a tight muscle, or a pinched nerve – we encourage you to explore what is on your mind. If you are stressed, anxious, or avoiding a certain topic, event, or feeling, your body may be warning you, through pain, that something needs resolution. If you are capable, light exercise is a great way to stimulate your lymph system and bring oxygen to your muscles. Implementing psychotherapy, in conjunction with physical therapy or other physical relief treatment options, could help extend your moments of relaxation & calm, and reduce moments of acute & chronic pain brought on by trauma or emotional distress.
If you are interested in learning more about the relationships between physical pain and our emotional health, please reach out to our team. We are happy to set up a consultation, and create a treatment plan that can help you reach your full potential for physical & emotional health.