Words are powerful. They can healing but also hurtful. Most people in the health care profession understand this intuitively. Even if your body is injured, you cannot complain about your body as being “bad” or use phrases such as “my terrible shoulder” or “my neck is really screwed up” and then expect to recover in the shortest amount of time. My patients know that I will redirect them if anything is said negative about their body or condition because I really do believe that effects the healing process in a detrimental way. I just read an interesting article that now puts some science to my beliefs: A new study by Maria Richter and colleagues from the Friedrich Schiller University of Medical School in Germany demonstrated how words that describe a painful experience such as “excruciating” and “paralyzing” can turn on areas of the brain where painful input is processed and stored. “These findings show that words alone are capable of activation our pain matrix” says senior author Thomas Weiss,PhD. This study has particular implications to those who suffer from long term, chronic pain. Those who dwell in their pain and discuss it frequently may actually be exacerbating their symptoms by keeping that part of the brain that processes painful input “turned on”. The researchers also went on to show that when the pain centers of the brain are turned on, the participants had less tolerance to a painful stimulus, thereby making the same pain experience greater.
So what do we do with this information? First of all, stop dwelling on the pain and keep it objective, “muscle strain of my neck” versus “I have really screwed up my neck now and it’s something really major”. As healthcare practitioners, it is our job to acknowledge our patients levels of pain but then redirect their thoughts and words to begin the healing process rather than continuing to dwell on the painful site. Remember, if painful words can turn on the “pain sites” in the brain, just think what positive words and thoughts can do to the brain……just a thought!