Healthy mind, healthy body?

Healthy mind, healthy body?

Pain relief

How our bodies and minds interact with each other has long been debated.  It is accepted that the two systems are interdependent, that the functioning of one will affect the functioning of the other.  Exactly how this relationship between a physical thing (the body) and a mental thing (the mind) works is not well understood.  Partly this is because our knowledge about the nature of mind itself is still very limited.  Theories abound from radical Behaviourists who question the existence of the mind at all and explain all human behaviour as the product of electrical activity in the brain, to the Humanists who are much more interested in each person’s unique subjective experience.  For the latter it is the sense that is made of life events that matters whereas the Behaviourists proclaim that we only need to attend to what we can see to understand the person.  Of course neither position offers a full explanation for the relationship between our mental and physical states.

The relationship between the brain and the body appears more straightforward.  Scientists have been able to identify different parts of the brain that control different parts of the body and behaviours.  For example language production is controlled by a small area of the left frontal lobe known as Broca’s area.  Brain cells fire up sending electrical impulses to each other in that area (and beyond) when we speak.  Should those cells degenerate and die off we would lose the power of speech. However the things we say, the words we use, depends on meaning making and here we enter the realm of the mind.  It is the sense we make of the things that happen to us that determines our responses to them and explains why two people experiencing the same things can have very different reactions to it.

he experience of pain is a good example of this.  Some very clever people (Morton et al 2016) have been able to identify several areas of the brain called the ‘pain matrix’ which are active when people are in pain.  However without access to complex brain-imaging resources pain cannot be seen.  We can sometimes see the causes of pain e.g. swollen joints, open wounds and we can see behaviours that suggest a person may be in pain e.g. grimaces, tears, clutching a body part, limping, but for the most part we have to rely on subjective, self-report measures of pain to gain any knowledge about how much pain someone else is feeling.  To complicate things people experience pain differently, as the threshold for pain is not standard.

Morton et al (2016) using functional brain imaging stated that pain is not just a sensory experience but ‘comprises a multidimensional experience that takes into account psychobiology, attentional processes, and expectations of pain resulting from past and learned pain experiences’.  Health practitioners who have offered pain management programmes have known this to be the case for decades but now people like Morton and her colleagues have provided the physical evidence that mental processes can and do modulate how much pain we feel.  Here is a lovely example of the kind of advice being offered routinely by practitioners supporting people to cope with chronic pain, it encompasses a range of physical and mental strategies.

There is limited research into the efficacy of magnetic therapy for pain relief and what research there is is at best equivocal.  In spite of this there is a thriving market in magnetic health products and a great deal of anecdotal evidence about how it has helped relieve pain.  One of the explanations often given to account for this discrepancy is the placebo effect.  As a psychologist also in the business of selling magnetic health products I was very interested in what Morton had to say about the role of expectation on an individual’s experience of pain.  This is what she says ‘Expectations and anticipation of pain are also known to be major contributors to placebo analgesia’.

They go on to hypothesise that the placebo effect occurs when the areas of the ‘pain matrix’ that are located in the part of the brain associated with higher order cognitive functions like attention, intention and problem solving exert control over the areas of the pain matrix that are located in the part of the brain associated with emotions.  In other words the placebo effect is an example of using our thinking minds to change our emotional experience of something that is happening to our bodies – in this instance that of pain.  This makes the placebo effect a very powerful intervention indeed as it harnesses our internal resources to heal ourselves.

At Magnets4Health we sell a huge range of magnetic health products of differing styles and prices are relatively inexpensive whilst also being attractive pieces of jewellery so by purchasing one at the very least you will have something lovely to wear that may very well help relieve your experience of pain.