Dr. Cobb back with you.
A long time ago I shot a blog and I think we called it Avoid the Pain Face, and one of the things we talk a lot about in Z-Health is that it’s very, very challenging to remember when you’re training in the gym, you’re doing exercise, whatever; to make it look easy, but ultimately we all aspire to look like great athletes, and the hallmark of great athleticism is you make the really difficult stuff look like you’re just walking down the street. You make it like easy.
Now, what I want to talk about today is a really cool research study that came out not too long ago, talking about what’s called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Pain.
Now, the whole idea here is pretty simple, all right. So, I’m just going to put it up here. We have thoughts and emotions. I have at least one thought and one emotion per day. I’m sure you do as well, and the thing that you want to understand in this study is pretty simple. We also all have, at some level, an occasional or potentially chronic experience of pain, depending on how our life has gone so far.
Now, most people understand this, but really the research is just starting to come out that thoughts and emotions influence our pain experience. So, let me tell you a little bit about the study that happened.
Basically, what they did is they took a bunch of volunteers. I think there were 45 of them, and they probably paid them, and they brought them in, and they burned them, okay. They burned them repetitively, and I think they burned them 45 times, or something, and in doing so, they asked them to rate the intensity of the pain, how unpleasant it was.
They did a pre-test, and then they took half the group, and they told them, in a 5 minute session, not in a 30 minute session, but in a 5 minute training session, they told them, “Now, when we’re going to do this again, what we want you to focus on are coping skills.
So, as you’re being burned, focus on how this is toughening you. Focus on how you’re learning to cope with pain in the future,” and then they took another group and they basically gave them instructions on how to improve their interpersonal relationships, which I found kind of amusing.
Now, they then burned them again, and what they found was very interesting, because what they learned was that the group that had the 5 minute intervention, had some very interesting things occur. In relationship to the pain, the intensity didn’t change, so let me explain what that means, first of all.
So, in the pre-test, let’s say I had an individual, and he was getting burned, and he was like, “Ouch, that really hurts. That’s a 7.” That’s the intensity. All right. On a scale of 1 to 10 how intense is it? It’s a 7, but he also was tested on unpleasantness. In other words, how much is this actually bothering me.
So, on the post-test, after the intervention where he was told to focus on the fact that he was learning to cope with pain in the future, he still rated the intensity as a 7, but what he said was that it bothered him less. In other words, the unpleasantness factor decreased.
Now, the researchers thought that was pretty cool, but there was one other thing that I found super interesting, in relationship to what we teach in terms of pain relief and athletic enhancement, because the whole point of the study was to look at how thoughts and emotions that occur in the brain are neuro-psychologically impacting on what are called descending pain inhibition pathways. In other words, can thoughts and emotions create truly physical changes in the body, in relationship to pain?
So, what they found in this, again, that I found remarkable, was what they called a change in secondary hyperalgesia, now here’s what that means. If I take someone, and I burn them. There is a patch of skin outside the burn mark where they become hypersensitive, and if you’ve ever hurt yourself, you know that. It’s like, “Well, that injury is here, but it’s inflamed and irritated on the perimeter.”
What they found was that after 5 minutes, again 5 minutes, of learning to think differently about the pain, the size of that secondary area shrunk by 38%. 38% change in the size of the secondary pain area, simply by learning to think about it differently.
Now, you may not be as startled by this as I was when I first read it. I know this experientially, and I’ve read other research around this, but this is a really amazing indicator, again, of just how powerful our thoughts are in relationship to what we’re experiencing in our own body. Again, this is great evidence that how we think about things has a truly physiologic impact, ultimately, in relationship to pain particularly, but we also see it like, like I said, across the board in exercise, etc.
So, your takeaway this week is as you start going in to the gym, you’re out for a run, whatever, if you find exercise uncomfortable, and maybe you’re really deconditioned, and just getting up off the couch and getting to the car to drive to the gym; you feel winded, and you feel uncomfortable.
One of the cool things that you can start to do is to really focus on what are you learning for your future in this process? You’re in there, you’re doing bench press and it’s starting to burn. What can you learn from that feeling, because, again, how we think about things, and how we feel about things, ultimately is going influence the ultimate outcome within our body.
So, whenever we give you rules in Z-Health, we say, “Hey, nice long spine. Stay relaxed as possible, avoid the pain face.” The reason for that is because we’re trying to train ourselves repetitively, over time, to control our thoughts, control our emotions, whenever we’re confronted with physical difficulties, because in so doing, we actually prevent them from becoming worse than they need to be.
So, those are my thoughts for you this week.
I hope you find that really interesting.
I’m going to go ahead and link to this study below, so that you can read it if you’re interested.
If you have any questions, or thoughts, please let us know. Otherwise have a fantastic week, and I’ll speak to you soon.