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Less Pain Through Treatment: Is that allowed?

I regularly end up in a discussion about pain treatment. May a (non-medical) treatment for pain symptoms be aimed at reducing pain? I think so!


First of all, bring back a moment when you were in (a lot of) pain yourself. Maybe longer periods of back pain, or pain after an accident. What were you thinking? Exactly. You wanted to get rid of it. Maybe you, like me, have low back pain on a regular basis and look for ways to alleviate it as well. Just like me. If we have pain, we want to get rid of it. 

The first point I'd like to make is to at least accept that people in pain want to reduce their pain. Whether you have a week of complaints or 20 years, it makes sense to want to get rid of the pain! Whatever you teach someone about accepting complaints, I believe that the wish to reduce the pain will always be there, as long as there is pain.  


Pain as the focus of (non-medical) treatment? 

Doctors don't let the grass grow on it.  All means used are aimed at reducing the pain.  And if all that fails, or makes the problems worse, the rest of the care workers are called in.  

And we'll see what can go wrong.  Too much focus on pain reduction, a brain that no longer functions as well as before due to medication.  Treatments that at best can continue as a placebo, and so on.  

For many people, pain has become a big and angry monster.  A monster that won't get smaller by focusing all attention on it.  A monster that doesn't get smaller by pretending it's not there.  No, the monster has to be accepted first, and then we have to see what can still be saved.  

Healthy ways of reducing pain 

So far, the opinions seem to be the same.  People in pain will have to accept that they are in pain.  face the monster, and learn new ways to deal with this monster.  

And in that last part, there's the nuance.   I believe there are ways of dealing with the pain monster that are healthier than others.  In fact, I believe that there are healthy ways of dealing with the pain monster that can also reduce the pain.  The evidence that non-medical interventions for pain actually reduce pain is growing every year.  That does not have to be denied in treatment. 

Of course, not denying it is not the same as 'focusing on it completely'.  A rigid focus on reducing pain is an 'unhealthy way' of trying to reduce pain.  But in many ways, we seem to have broken through in 'reducing pain' and banned it from the treatment of pain.  We have forgotten that the potential to reduce your pain (especially in the long run!) can also be a powerful motivator for treatment.  

What then? 

I am in favour of showing people with pain in treatment, when they ask, that their pain can be reduced.  That this is a long process, and that a long-term perspective helps best.  

I teach people strategies that can influence their pain in a healthy way.  Relaxation, mindfulness, visualizations, expanding behavior, helping thoughts, etc.  Strategies that for some people lead directly to pain reduction!  And that's great, because that way someone learns that you can also make your 'own medicine'.  The fact that people are able to regulate their own nervous system only has a reinforcing effect.  Makes them less dependent.  

And it is precisely the repeated application of the (mental) strategies that lead to immediate pain reduction for some people that ensures acceptance and improvement of complaints in the long term.  

Why would it be different for pain? 

When we talk about stress or anxiety, it's fine that we teach people how to reduce it.  Meditating to reduce stress?  It's fine!  Do you already feel improvement after 3 minutes of meditation?  Only good!  A relaxation exercise at work to be able to continue in peace and quiet?  Great! 

I don't see much difference with pain. Learning to regulate your body in a healthy way is good for everyone. If you can apply it in such a way that you will soon have less pain, I think it's fine.