Pain is an extremely complicated and nuanced thing, and the way we respond to pain stimuli may be a result of our mental state and past experiences.
Medical doctors are trained to treat physical pain in accordance with physiological pain models. They will prescribe medications and treatments according to modern medical knowledge of pain perceptions and pain pathways, but these are only a tiny fraction of a much larger situation.
What is Psychogenic Pain Disorder?
Psychogenic or psychological pain disorders are conditions where patients experience pain that doesn’t directly correlate to a medical cause. In some cases, this pain will relate to an injury or underlying condition.
Medical professionals won’t be able to connect the severity of a patient’s perception of pain to the measured degree of an injury, rendering them unable to provide adequate relief to affected patients.
These patients are experiencing actual pain, but the pain isn’t stemming directly from the source. It’s often stemming from the mind’s perception of the pain, which may be disproportionately greater than the physical perception of the pain.
Psychogenic pain disorders are often linked to the concept of very low pain tolerances. Many people commonly undergo procedures like tattoos, ear piercing, or even body waxing are usually well-tolerated by unmedicated individuals.
For someone with a psychogenic pain disorder, the pain associated with these procedures may be perceived as unbearable.
This is likely due to the way the mind processes pain. People with a severe aversion to pain will often profoundly react to slightly painful stimuli, increasing the intensity of their perception. Some people have emotional or traumatic associations with pain, which worsens their experience.
In certain cases, the pain is caused by an emotional factor. People with psychogenic pain perceptions may experience negative emotions in the form of headaches, muscle tension, back pain, or stomach pain.
What Helps with Psychogenic Pain Disorder?
Psychogenic pain disorder is not an official diagnosis. A medical doctor won’t tell you that you have a psychogenic pain disorder, and a mental health professional won’t likely use the term.
Mental health professionals are best qualified to assist people with psychogenic pain disorders. With adequate treatment, psychogenic pain disorder may completely resolve over time.
Talk therapies and behavioral therapies can help people understand the root of their pain aversion or heightened pain perceptions and mitigate their fear of pain. This may involve some kind of exposure therapy in practice, where patients are induced into a calm state and asked to experience a mild pain sensation.
With repeated exposure experience in a clinically monitored setting, many people with psychogenic pain disorders come to realize that they’re capable of handling pain and letting it go. This will reduce their fear response or emotional response to pain and better equip them to handle the potential for pain in the future.
In some cases, antidepressants can be prescribed to assist with a patient’s mental state. Your mental health may play a role in the experience of pain perception, and talk therapy for emotional help should be used in conjunction with medication.
Certain antidepressant drugs have secondary properties that assist in pain relief. Patients with active psychogenic pain will sometimes feel better physically and emotionally when they use antidepressant medications.
People with Psychogenic Pain Disorder Should be Wary of Pain Medicine
Pain medications of any kind should not be used to deal with the symptoms of psychogenic pain disorder. Because the source of the discomfort stems more from a mental exacerbation than a physical cause, the risks posed by pain medications far outweigh the potential benefits.
Narcotic pain medications, particularly opioids, are extremely addictive and come with a high potential for abuse. Introducing these drugs to people without a physically identifiable medical need for them won’t do anything to help psychogenic pain. Instead, it only creates the risk for substance use disorders.
Although over-the-counter pain relievers may be the lesser of two evils, they can still present many side effects harmful to the user’s health. Acetaminophen (brand name Tylenol) can become harmful to the liver in high doses or with prolonged use. Ibuprofen (brand name Advil) can irritate the stomach lining.
People with psychogenic pain disorder should use natural or topical remedies to soothe symptoms of pain. A massage, for example, is a beneficial experience unlikely to cause harm to the body.
Pain Relief Topicals May Be a Better Option
Pain relief topicals are less likely to cause side effects than any pain relief product. They can be used indefinitely without harm. People with psychogenic pain disorder would likely benefit from the use of topical numbing creams like lidocaine.
Lidocaine works by producing a gentle numbing sensation through the surface of the skin. When the area is numb, pain signals cannot be sent to or perceived by the brain. Even if the pain is more psychological than physical, the sensation of numbness may calm the worries of someone with psychogenic pain.
These topicals should only be used as an interim solution. They won’t do anything to cure psychogenic pain disorder or cause long-term changes to pain perception. Only a well-qualified mental health professional is in a position to treat patients who live with the condition.
Finding True Relief
Psychogenic pain is genuine for the people who experience it, although it may be frustrating to doctors who don’t understand how to treat it.
If your healthcare has suggested that most of your pain is psychological, seek help from a mental health professional. You’ll find true relief once you unravel the source of the problem and give yourself the gift of the help you deserve.
In the meantime, solutions like pain relief topicals can safely take the edge off of the pain sensation without causing harm to your body.