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Episode 13. Connecting Mental & Physical Pain

For the start of our new podcast season we had the pleasure of talking with Manual Therapist, Kate Hathway. Kate is passionate about helping people and using multiple modalities to aid healing in people's bodies.

One of the main elements that we talked about is psychogenic pain, which is when physical pain is linked to emotional stress. This connection is something that a lot more people are becoming aware of, and the idea that we can store past trauma or current stress in areas of our body that can make us eventually either feel pain or become unwell. The resulting pain or disease isn't imagined, it is real and it isn't as simple as thinking yourself better. However, understanding the brain - body link can help to put emphasis on the importance of taking care of our mental wellbeing alongside our physical wellbeing.

Western medicine separated the mind and body hundreds of years ago, but Eastern medicine has continued to be much more integrated. Western medicine leads when it comes to acute illness and injuries, however, the link between mental health and physical health hasn't been very prominent over the past hundred years, although hopefully this is now starting to change.

More and more studies are providing insights into the various links within our bodies. Not only with the body and mind, but also our minds and our gut health, our skin microbiome and our general health and our environment to our mental wellbeing. It of course makes perfect sense if we think about it, it's all connected and to isolate one aspect and focus solely on the wellbeing of that without considering anything else may never provide overall health.

We have mostly always thought of any connection to the brain as being one way. If you have pain in your back the nerves will send signals to your brain to be processed (simplistic, but you get the idea). Studies have shown that this isn't the case, the interconnection between brain and body works both ways. Your stressful job or anxiety could be causing the back pain, rather than the back pain being caused by a physical injury and then telling your brain it's sore. It's great that the science is starting to catch up with what many people have felt intuitively for hundreds of years already.

Most studies seem to only talk about trauma, depression, anxiety and how it results in disease in the body. However, we found that one of the most interesting and empowering elements to all of this is how we can make our brain - body connection work for us. There have been some fascinating studies done on mental attitude when it comes to fitness and how that compares to the physical results we get.

An example of this might be:

Builder #1 goes to work and has to lift 100 concrete blocks that day and they approach the task negatively, thinking how awful it's going to be and hoping to just "get it done".

Compared to builder #2 that thinks "This is my work out for the day, it's like lifting weights at the gym", they then approach the lifting properly as if they were lifting weights.

Guess which builder shows more physical benefits, bigger muscles, better cardio vascular response etc....yep, it's the second builder. Even though both builder #1 and #2 lifted the same amount of weights. They both see an increase in muscle, but it isn't equal. There are of course other factors that can play into this also from what diet a person has, their family history, mental health etc. As with anything, isolating one element doesn't give all the answers, only one perspective.

However, from what the research tells us it wouldn't hurt to take on a positive attitude the next time you're putting the washing on or mowing the lawn. Just imagine that it's part of your exercise for the day!

It's great that we can use these connections to our benefit and know how important our mental health approach to everything is. Let's just hope that this also brings about change to normalise mental health issues, to be ok about saying that you're not ok and to not idealise being "really busy" or "juggling it all".

To listen to our podcast with Kate Hathway about how she professionally deals with the mind - body connection click here.

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