The psychology of a herniated disc can influence symptomology just as much as the physicality of a spinal disc pathology. In fact, the psychoemotional nocebo factor can cause pain through many more processes than a purely structural herniation ever could.
Patients and doctors alike rarely consider the mind when discussing back or neck pain that might be related to a herniated intervertebral disc. Instead, discussion typically focuses around purely anatomical models for pain that are now known to be off-base in many instances.
The mind influences the body in infinite ways. Every anatomical process is engineered by some command that originates within the recesses of the conscious, subconscious or unconscious mind.
This dissertation delves into the lesser discussed mindbody aspects of herniated disc diagnosis and treatment. We will examine how the mind plays a major role in symptom generation, symptom resolution and the possible development of chronic pain.
When a person is diagnosed with a herniated disc, the immediate reaction is one of fear. Everyone has heard stories that attest to the terror of disc-related back pain. We have also all heard how difficult these conditions are to cure or even treat effectively.
If the diagnostician does not reassure the patient with objective facts, then the impact of the diagnosis can be compounded many times over. However, when the diagnostician uses the structural discovery to frighten the patient, in order to get them to immediately acquiesce to treatment, then the psychoemotional trauma is exponentially magnified.
The influence of the nocebo factor is well known in medical science. This occurrence describes a scenario where a person suffers negative health consequences as a result of purely psychological suggestion or conditioning, rather than from any structural, anatomical or mechanical process. Nocebo has been implicated in being the primary reason for the development of chronic pain, regardless of where this pain is found or its perceived underlying origin.
The nocebo effect can be cancelled through quality care from an enlightened provider, using positive reinforcement and the presentation of true facts concerning the actual prognosis for the condition. However, when the caregiver neglects this reassurance through purposeful infliction of nocebo, or simply due to ignorance of the mindbody effects that might be enacted, the patient is likely to suffer the commencement of symptoms, the worsening of symptoms or the prolongation of symptoms in virtually every case.
The mind can create pain, prolong pain or exacerbate pain through many processes, including ischemia, chronic tension, various disease processes and autoimmune dysfunction. We see many of these examples within our own treatment experiences, yet more often than not, these factors are not recognized, nor acknowledged by most traditional care providers.
In essence, this means that the mindbody contributors to pain are ignored in favor of the purely anatomical irregularities that may or may not be involved in the causation of symptoms. This fact really sheds light on why herniated disc treatment is generally so ineffectual and why so many disc pain sufferers never find that elusive lasting cure, even after surgery structurally resolves the problematic disc protrusion.
We now fully understand the power of neuroplasticity. This is the brain’s ability to form new neuron connections, or remove unused neuron connections, based on thought patterns, emotions and behaviors. We also know that these neuron patterns are some of the major factors that account for the experience of pain, as well as how this pain is managed.
Nocebo effect causes extreme mental focus on the affected area of the anatomy. Conditioning facilitates the idea that pain should be expected and therefore will occur. It is just a matter of time before the reality of pain replaces the concept of it, after implementation of the nocebo during diagnosis.
Once pain begins, ever more neuron connections will monitor the area as the person becomes increasingly obsessed with their suffering and the various failed attempts at resolving it. This is the construction process for chronic pain in its purest form.
Statistics clearly demonstrate that the more treatments a patient tries, the less of a chance they have of finding a cure. Ironically, but sensibly, patients who do not buy into the idea of inherent pain as part of the herniated disc diagnosis usually never seek treatment, nor do they experience any significant or lasting pain.
Statistics also show that many diagnosed herniated disc patients can find enduring relief through the implementation of purely mindbody therapies, such as those associated with knowledge therapy or pain coaching practices. Of course, these therapies do nothing to adjust the anatomy in any way. The herniation is still present and remains unaffected by the treatment. However, the mind changes its perception of the threat level of the herniation, decreases neuron connections and therefore experiences far less symptomatic activity, regardless of whether the pain results from purely psychological mechanisms, purely physical mechanisms or a combination of both factors working in unison.
These facts demonstrate the reason why pain is being treated differently by specialists in the field of mindbody healthcare. The old ways of managing symptoms through drugs and injections never worked well and enacted some terrible side effects that often cause catastrophic wellness consequences in the victim.
Meanwhile, mindbody work has shown excellent results for treating pain regardless of whether it is psychologically or structurally enacted. No wonder paradigm changes are being made towards nonpharmaceutical pain management around the world.
There is so much to say about how the mind can cause and cure pain. There is even more to say about how constructive pain management approaches can minimize purely anatomical-motivated pain. These are topics that we address elsewhere on the sites of The Cure Back Pain Network. However, when it comes to the psychology of herniated discs, there are some definitive conclusions that can be clearly and universally understood:
Pain can be created due to nocebo effect and not any structural reason. This explains why so many people experience intractable agony linked to a spinal disc abnormality, even when the disc shows no evidence of enacting pathological neurological consequences.
Next, the mind can increase or decrease the severity and perception of pain through neuroplasticity and conditioning.
Finally, cognitive and emotional practices can reduce the severity of pain, regardless of its source. These techniques can work well for psychologically-enacted pain, but also function just as effectively for decreasing the incidence and severity of anatomically-motivated pain.
Patients and doctors must always turn their attention to the powers of the mind when considering any matter of health. This is due to the simple fact that all conditions of disease, injury and wellness have inherent mindbody interactions that are involved in their causation and expression.
If you have been diagnosed with a herniated disc, be sure to fully understand the condition in an objective manner, in order to prevent the nocebo effect and the commencement of pain from what might otherwise had been a coincidental structural abnormality.
This essay does not speculate that all herniated discs are asymptomatic, nor that all varieties of chronic pain is caused by the mind. However, the universal conclusion that can be formulated is that the mind plays a distinct and important role in the cause, duration, severity and resolution of all types of pain. Furthermore, pain can be best managed using therapies that act on the mind and body, rather than on the body alone.