Chronic Back Pain: Can training my brain lead to less pain?

Yes, even simple cognitive or mental exercises can be helpful in decreasing your pain.

Did you know that if you believe something will cause pain, your brain becomes more sensitized to it? Pain-related fear may increase the susceptibility of your spinal cord to over-react or amplify normal signals. Some people have even told us that they fear they will end up in a wheelchair because of their pain; if a person always rates pain a 12 out of 10, or uses terms like excruciating, severe, or debilitating, the brain quickly believes it. Psychologists call this catastrophization. Constant facial grimacing, limping or groaning can stimulate the brain and spinal cord to amplify pain signals. Once these patterns have developed, it is even more difficult for the brain to reprogram or over-ride them.

The job of our spine surgeons and physicians, physical therapists, psychologists, and other team members is to talk to you about unnecessary fears and misconceptions about your back pain before sending you for other testing or treatment. Your job is to be open to learning what we have taught successfully to people with chronic back pain for over 25 years. By recognizing patterns of belief and having the will to change, you can learn skills that will decrease pain in the short term4 and in the long term.

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Department of Orthopedics and Rehabilitation
University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics
200 Hawkins Drive
Iowa City, IA 52242
319-356-8400