Humans, like other animals, are born with an instinctive motivation to escape pain. Think about the last time you touched something painfully hot and how quickly you pulled away from it. Your quick and automatic action is the result of hardwired biology meant to preserve your health and survival. When it comes to ongoing, severe pain that comes from within your own body—migraine or back pain, for example—escape isn’t so easy. About 100 million Americans experience this kind of chronic agony, making it more prevalent than diabetes, heart disease and cancer combined—and it has a significant impact on their lives.
Medication is one answer, but painkillers such as opioids—and even drugs like ibuprofen and acetaminophen (more familiar to some as the brands Advil and Tylenol)—can have significant downsides. It turns out, however, psychological approaches such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help you train your brain away from pain. Brain-imaging research has shown a negative pain mind-set (ruminating on how awful pain is and expecting it to worsen) actually amplifies pain processing in the brain. Using low-risk CBT techniques over the course of several weeks, however, alters brain structure. It learns to ratchet down pain signals, which enhances the effectiveness of medical interventions and helps patients reduce their need for doctors and pills.
Here’s how it works:
Read the whole story: Scientific American