Changing the meaning of pain from negative to positive reduces pain

Pain is defined as a negative emotional experience that is affected by a variety of psychological factors. Some of the pain brain mechanisms involve endorphins (endogenous opioids) and cannabinoids (substances related to marijuana – yes, we have those in our brains) and they have been found to be involved in stress-related and placebo pain relief. A study by Italian researchers just published in journal Pain showed that when the meaning of the pain experience is changed from negative to positive through verbal suggestions, the opioid and cannabinoid systems are co-activated and these, in turn, increase pain tolerance. Healthy volunteers had a blood pressure cuff inflated over the upper arm to the point of pain and were asked to tolerate the pain as long as possible. One group was told about the negative effects of pain. The second group was told that the the pain would be beneficial to the muscles. The second group was able to tolerate pain much longer than the first one. When the researchers gave the group with the positive message opioid antidote or the antidote to marijuana, their pain tolerance worsened. Interestingly, the combined administration of these two antidotes completely eliminated their advantage over the negative message group. This study showed that a positive approach to pain reduces the global pain experience. The authors concluded that their findings may have a profound impact on clinical practice. For example, postoperative pain, which means healing, can be perceived as less unpleasant than cancer pain, which means death. Therefore, the behavioral manipulation of the meaning of pain can represent an effective approach to pain management.
This study is complementary to the study that showed the advantages of optimistic attitude mentioned in a previous post.

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