There are two types of pain, says David Schechter, M.D., the author of Think Away Your Pain. There are the acute and subacute kinds: You sprain your ankle, you treat it with pain meds or physical therapy, and it goes away within a few months. Then there’s the type that persists.
“Functional MRIs show that chronic pain originates in a different area of the brain from acute pain,” says Dr. Schechter. It activates the amygdala and prefrontal cortex, two areas involved with emotional processing. “It’s real pain,” he says, but medication and physical therapy can’t completely cure it. “You have to heal the altered pathways in the brain too.”
Here are the best science-backed ways to manage pain with your mind.
The first step is realizing that your pain is coming from those obsolete nerve pathways, not an ongoing problem in the area that hurts. You can confirm that your injury has healed by getting an exam and, if necessary, imaging from a doctor.
But it can be hard to let go of the idea that something is wrong physically. Keep reminding yourself: The pain is coming from a misdirected route in your brain, not your body.