Chronic pain conditions may be triggered by human emotions, research shows

Many common illnesses ranging from sciatica, fibromyalgia and other chronic pain conditions may be triggered by human emotions, leading researchers have suggested.

Georgie Oldfield MCSP, from Huddersfield, runs SIRPA, a company founded in 2010 to educate health professionals and coaches to help individuals address the root causes of chronic pain and other persistent symptoms, has been working as a physiotherapist since 1983.

The 62-year-old was employed by the NHS for decades before leaving the health service to become self-employed and run her own business and focus more on helping people in pain.

Ms. Oldfield spent years in the public and private sector treating patients who could not link their pain or recurrent health problems to any physical cause.

Many common illnesses ranging from sciatica, fibromyalgia and other chronic pain conditions may be triggered by human emotions, leading researchers have suggested (file image: man with shoulder pain)

Many common illnesses ranging from sciatica, fibromyalgia and other chronic pain conditions may be triggered by human emotions, leading researchers have suggested (file image: man with shoulder pain)

Ms Oldfield told MailOnline: ‘It didn’t make sense for people to come to me and leave pain free and they still had a prolapsed intervertebral disc, for example.

“While for other people experiencing pain, they came with results of medical tests and scans, but nothing could be found.

‘When I left the NHS in 2005 I had more time to think about this. I was doing some reading and talking with colleagues and asking so many questions and then, in 2007,

‘In New York I came across the work of Professor of Rehabilitation Medicine Dr. John Sarno.

Ms Oldfield (pictured) spent several decades in the NHS before founding SIRPA in 2010

Ms Oldfield (pictured) spent several decades in the NHS before founding SIRPA in 2010

For years she has treated patients who could not link their pain or recurring health problems to a physical cause

For years she has treated patients who could not link their pain or recurring health problems to a physical cause

His hypothesis was that chronic pain is a state of mind and body with unresolved emotions that manifest as pain and other symptoms.

“The work that SIRPA teaches is constantly evolving as pain science now explains why treating the underlying causes of chronic pain, rather than the pain itself, is more likely to allow the pain to resolve, rather than just manage it.”

In the early stages, it’s important to rule out a physical cause for a person’s pain, including cancer, infection, fracture, or an autoimmune disease.

When a physical cause for pain has been ruled out, it can be confusing, especially when an illness comes out of nowhere and disrupts someone’s daily life.

Ms Oldfield said once the nervous system becomes hypersensitive it can lead to a host of problems in the body

Ms Oldfield said once the nervous system becomes hypersensitive it can lead to a host of problems in the body

However, seemingly random pain is often associated with triggering repressed feelings such as anger, fear, and frustration.

Once these emotions begin to build up and reach a tipping point, they can hypersensitize the nervous system.

This can then result in a host of problems in the body and lead to conditions such as sciatica, migraines, whiplash, fibromyalgia and tinnitus.

The patient, who has no understanding of current science, may feel that their pain is physical and that there is something wrong in their tissues, muscles, nerves, or bones.

The patient, who does not understand current science, may feel that their pain is physical and that there is something wrong in their tissues, muscles, nerves or bones (Photo: SIRPA Conference)

The patient, who does not understand current science, may feel that their pain is physical and that there is something wrong in their tissues, muscles, nerves or bones (Photo: SIRPA Conference)

To make things even more confusing, they may even be told they have wear and tear or a herniated disc as a result of a scan and think this is the source of the problem.

But as researchers argue, this is an outdated and flawed model, with a growing body of evidence suggesting that people who do not report pain have had scans showing disc, joint and arthritis problems, showing that degeneration is simply a normal part of aging.

Pain – whether emotional or physical – is ultimately controlled in the same part of the brain.

When the research was in its infancy in 2007, these conclusions were pushed back, but now there is more evidence to support these claims.

Pain - whether emotional or physical - is ultimately controlled in the same part of the brain (Pictured: a SIRPA conference)

Pain – whether emotional or physical – is ultimately controlled in the same part of the brain (Pictured: a SIRPA conference)

However, some patients with chronic pain are skeptical and convinced that there must be something structurally wrong with them.

To change this attitude, we need to educate ourselves and update our understanding of what pain is, says Ms Oldfield.

Large organizations such as the International Association for the Study of Pain are beginning to interpret it differently.

For them, pain is not only associated with actual damage, but can also ‘look’ like it.

Ms Oldfield added: ‘What we do is help people tackle wrong beliefs/myths all the time, which is not easy and can take time.

When Ms Oldfield's research was in its infancy in 2007, these conclusions were pushed back, but now there is more evidence to support these claims (Photo: Ms Oldfield on ITV)

When Ms Oldfield’s research was in its infancy in 2007, these conclusions were pushed back, but now there is more evidence to support these claims (Photo: Ms Oldfield on ITV)

“We are attacking beliefs that people have held for decades. However, we know that the mind and body are not separate and so part of our work is to encourage people to become more aware of what is happening in their bodies.

What can make pain worse are the six Fs drawn up by Ms. Oldfield’s American colleague, physician and researcher, Dr. Howard Schubiner.

According to Dr. Schubiner, chronic pain is often made worse by anxiety, frustration, focusing on the pain, trying to fix it, trying to figure it out and fight it.

SIRPA researchers (pictured) have found that seemingly random pain is often linked to triggering repressed feelings such as anger, fear and frustration

SIRPA researchers (pictured) have found that seemingly random pain is often linked to triggering repressed feelings such as anger, fear and frustration

Ms Oldfield explained: ‘There is some evidence that fear of pain, even just worrying about it, can make it worse.

“Plus, the more we focus on pain, the more we feed it. And if we try to fight it and push it away, it can also make it worse.

Trying to solve it and googling it all the time, as well as frustration, make it worse. But if you try to pinpoint the pain and analyze it too much, it can also get worse.

‘I get e-mails from people who say, ‘I fight my pain every day’, but unfortunately that only evokes resistance.

“This is about self-compassion and surrender to the pain, which is hard for people to understand. However, if you surrender, the pain will no longer fight against you, as soldiers do when you surrender in a war.”

To change this attitude, we need to educate ourselves and update our understanding of what pain is, says Ms Oldfield

To change this attitude, we need to educate ourselves and update our understanding of what pain is, says Ms Oldfield

To improve one’s chronic pain, you need to work with the stress response, identify and address root causes, learn how to reprogram the brain from a state of fear and protection to a state of safety.

Ms Oldfield added: ‘Looking at a timeline of your life can be helpful in identifying some of the past and present issues that may have been challenging for you and were probably not acknowledged and addressed at the time.

“Therapeutic journaling can be an effective way to help with this.”

However, before she starts working on unresolved emotions, Ms. Oldfield says she would always teach a client calm, connected breathing and how to ground themselves.

Large organizations such as the International Association for the Study of Pain are beginning to interpret it differently (photo: Catherine Pollitt, a physio on the SIRPA Members' Council)

Large organizations such as the International Association for the Study of Pain are beginning to interpret it differently (photo: Catherine Pollitt, a physio on the SIRPA Members’ Council)

This helps the victim of pain feel more comfortable acknowledging emotions that come up.

And what’s more, it can help many feel safe in recognizing their emotions as soon as they surface.

For years, people have avoided and distracted themselves because we were taught in early childhood that it wasn’t safe to express them.

So by becoming more emotionally aware, addressing false beliefs and unhelpful behaviors, and training our pain away from the learned and sensitized neural circuits, Ms. Oldfield says it’s possible to resolve chronic pain.

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