All About Pain – Part 5: Beliefs and Stress

© Dane Roubos, D.C.

This is a broad and extremely important area. I’ve done some form of massage, bodywork or doctoring with people since 1974. Over the years I’ve repeatedly found that the Mental, Emotional & Spiritual areas have a profound influence on our health and well-being. Stress and tension are big players in the pain game.

The Placebo Effect – an Inconvenient Truth
The mental category includes our thoughts and beliefs, both conscious and unconscious, and our level of awareness. It is well known in medicine that about one third of the people will respond positively to a treatment if they believe in it, even if the treatment is a fake. This is an example the power of the mind!

It’s referred to, somewhat disdainfully, as the “placebo effect.” Bruce Lipton, a PhD research cell biologist, calls it the “belief effect,” because it perfectly demonstrates the power of our beliefs. Dr. Lipton spent many years teaching in medical schools, and has done pioneering research at Stanford University

“The placebo effect is quickly glossed over in medical schools so that students can get to the real tools of modern medicine like drugs and surgery.

“This is a giant mistake. The placebo effect should be a major topic of study in medical school. I believe that medical education should train doctors to recognize the power of our internal resources. Doctors should not dismiss the power of the mind as something inferior to the power of chemicals and the scalpel. They should let go of their conviction that the body and its parts are essentially stupid and that we need outside intervention to maintain our health . . .”

“. . . It inevitably disturbs the pharmaceutical manufacturers that in most of their clinical trials the placebos, the “fake” drugs, prove to be as effective as their engineered chemical cocktails. (Greenberg 2003)”

The Biology of Belief, by Bruce Lipton, PhD, pg 107-8

Fake Knee Surgery Just as Good as the Real Thing
If you have knee pain, and are considering knee surgery, the following excerpt is a must read!

“A Baylor School of Medicine study, published in 2002 in the New England Journal of Medicine evaluated surgery for patients with severe, debilitating knee pain. (Moseley, et al, 2002) The lead author, Dr. Bruce Moseley, ‘knew’ that knee surgery helped his patients: ‘All good surgeons know there is no placebo effect in surgery.’

“But Moseley was trying to figure out which part of the surgery was giving his patients relief. The patients in the study were divided into three groups. Moseley shaved the damaged cartilage in the knee of one group. For another group, he flushed out the knee joint, removing material thought to be causing the inflammatory effect. Both of these constitute standard medical treatment for arthritic knees. The third group got “fake” surgery. . . All three groups were prescribed the same postoperative care, which included an exercise program.

“The results were shocking. Yes, the groups who received surgery, as expected, improved. But the placebo group improved just as much as the other two groups! Despite the fact that there are 650,000 surgeries yearly for arthritic knees, at a cost of about $5,000 each, the results were clear to Moseley: “My skill as a surgeon had no benefit on these patients. The entire benefit of surgery for osteoarthritis of the knee was the placebo effect.”

The Biology of Belief, by Bruce Lipton, PhD, pg 107-8

Curious to see what the details of the study were, I reviewed the original article and discovered some interesting things. You can read it yourself here: A Controlled Trial of Arthroscopic Surgery for Osteoarthritis of the Knee

  • All surgeries were performed by the same well-trained, well-respected surgeon, so there was consistency
  • There were 180 original participants in the study, divided between the three groups. 165 participants actually completed the full study (2 yr)
  • Outcome was assessed at frequent intervals over a two-year period
  • Improvement was about 25% reduction in pain, with the placebo group being about 2% better than the real surgeries over the course of the first year after the surgery.

The article’s closing statement said it all:
If the efficacy of arthroscopic lavage or débridement in patients with osteoarthritis of the knee is no greater than that of placebo surgery, the billions of dollars spent on such procedures annually might be put to better use.”

If you ask me, 25% improvement in pain is hardly worth writing home about. In fact, I’m astounded that this rate is even considered acceptable! Personally, I’m not happy with less than 90 to100% pain reduction for most of my clients, and I believe this is true for most other chiropractors and natural health care practitioners as well. Are we from another planet? Probably . . . :-)

This 2002 study implies that $3.25 Billion could be saved each year by using the power of the mind to treat arthritic knees! But orthopedic surgeons took issue with the first study, claiming it had “flaws.” (This is what opponents usually claim when they don’t like the results of a study).

A more recent study, with more participants, compared arthroscopic knee surgery to a combination of physical therapy and common pain meds. The results were the same: no additional benefit to the surgery over the conservative (and far less expensive) treatment.

The news article states that orthopedic surgeons are now cranking out over a million of these surgeries every year. You can read about it here: A new study casts doubt on the value of a common procedure for arthritic knees

One could wonder why the practice continues, and even grows!

We could blame it on ignorance on the part of the medical industry, or even greed & corruption. However, I want to propose another, perhaps more practical reason.

Regardless of other influences, the proliferation of ineffective, and even dangerous treatments occurs simply because the public continues to demand it, and insurance companies continue to pay for it.

We, the public, need to wake up to our power of choice, and the power of our own minds. When this occurs, en masse, we will experience a health care revolution that will dwarf the size of the natural health movement that exploded in the 1980’s!

Are Pain Pills Safe?
The US News article I listed above recommends the judicious use of over-the-counter meds for pain & inflammation. I briefly address the dangers of pain pills and the potential benefit of more natural substances in the Nutritional Support section of this article.

Toxic Thoughts
Sometimes our mind can be our own worst enemy. We’ve all had our bouts with negativity, when we doubt, judge, complain, rant, rave, or generally feel sorry for ourselves. It’s a human thing, and not worth getting upset about if it occurs a few times a year.

However, we can sometimes get stuck in a negative rut and have a hard time getting out. The less fortunate among us may live most of their lives in such a space. Sometimes this is due to dietary influences, like under-nutrition or food allergies, but quite commonly it’s due to old mental habit patterns or beliefs we took on from our parents when we were young.

Most of us also have a “sub-personality” called the Inner Critic. It’s judgmental toward us, and never misses an opportunity to point out our failings.

It doesn’t matter how good you look or how smart you are, the judge can always find something to complain about, even if you regularly appear on magazine covers and in Who’s Who.

And, if you’re like many people, your “judge” probably keeps a barrage of commentary going in the background. Many of us are still judging ourselves for mistakes we made 10 years ago.

The real question isn’t so much about what we’ve done in the past, but rather what you have learned from the experience. Isn’t the real issue whether or not we have taken responsibility for our actions and made amends to those affected? Tremendous healing can occur when this is done.

But if we continue to judge ourselves for something we did or did not do in the past, we will continue to suffer.

Some people recognize their judge’s voice as saying many of the same things one of their parents often said. It’s like having your very own Trojan horse. Talk about stress!

Negative thinking does more than affect our mood and cause stress. It’s been shown to affect our health at the cellular level.

Our Thoughts and Feelings Influence our Bodies
It is now well-known that our thoughts and emotions affect the health of our immune system, and many other bodily functions. Now, the new science of Epigenetics is studying how our genes get turned on or off by signals from outside the cell.

Positive thoughts and beliefs have a positive influence on our genetic expression, while negative ones have the opposite effect. This in turn has a wide range of effects, from how our brains learn and grow, to how susceptible we are to stress or disease. Genes that encourage or inhibit certain diseases can be turned on or off by these signals.

The old saying, “You are what you eat,” might now be translated to, “You are what you believe and think.” Our subconscious beliefs tend to drive our thoughts and emotions. But since these beliefs are beneath our conscious awareness, we don’t know who’s really driving the bus.

About 20 years ago, psychologist Robert Williams developed several processes for identifying and changing limiting subconscious beliefs. This makes it much easier to shift those beliefs and habits that keep getting in our way (and creating stress). Click this link to read a brief article about Psych-K.

Designing Happiness
As we develop awareness of what we’re thinking and feeling, we begin to have some “say” in the matter. If we’re aware of a negative thought when it arises, we can choose not to follow it. If we’re unaware of the negative thought, our auto-pilot follows it down the well-worn track, which leads to another negative thought, and another. Before you know it, you’re having a “bad day!”

We can make a choice to stop feeding a negative thought process at any time. A similar thought might show up a minute later, giving us another opportunity to choose.

Neuro-Science research has shown that our brains develop “habit patterns,” wherein the more we use a particular group of neurons, the easier they fire. Because of this, negative thoughts can be amazingly persistent, so there’s an abundance of practice opportunities!

If you sense that there are emotions underneath a repetitive thought, you can experiment with “Allowing Feelings to Flow Through,” in part 4.

Using these simple processes has made a huge difference in my own “happiness quotient.” It’s very empowering to discover that you don’t have to run from your thoughts and feelings anymore – or allow them to “run” you.

“. . . we are rewriting the expression of our genes in every second, by our choices of what to do, say, and think. The choices we make with our consciousness are being genetically encoded in our brain structure daily . . .

“We must consider the implications of the fact that our emotional and mental environment, which we create as individuals, is one of the primary influences turning genes on and off in our cells.”

The Genie in your Genes, Pg 101, Dawson Church

As I mentioned earlier, Stress and tension are big players in the pain game. Now that you have (I hope) a better appreciation of the mind’s potential role in pain, it’s time to visit the topic of stress.

Stress is to be found almost everywhere you turn in today’s world. Since it’s highly likely that this will not improve greatly over the next year or two, it’s probably wise to develop some sort of relaxation or stress-reduction practice that works for you, if you haven’t already done so.

Questions to Explore
Now that I’ve tickled your brain with this new information, I invite you to spend a little time pondering the following questions, relating to the power of your own mind:

  • What type of thoughts do you notice on a frequent basis?
  • Are your beliefs generally positive in nature, or are you a devout devotee of “Murphy’s law?” (something’s going to go wrong . . . )
  • Do your thoughts often gravitate to worry, or do they center on appreciation for what you have?
  • Do you often have anxious thoughts about what might happen in the future?
  • Is your awareness mostly in the present moment, or do you commonly find yourself wandering in the past or future (even by a few minutes)?
  • What do you tell yourself about who you are, what you’re capable of, and your worth as a person?
  • If you were able to go through your life with more faith, self-confidence, and peace of mind, how do you think your pain would respond?