Did you know that expectations of pain can have a significant effect on how we experience pain? Studies have shown that positive and negative expectations of an impending painful stimuli change how we perceive and feel the pain.
Positive Expectations Can Lower Ratings of Pain
A study in 2005 found that people who had lower expectations of impending pain actually had a lower perception of the pain. In the study, the participants were subjected to three different levels of pain (mild, moderate, and severe). Heat was used to stimulate the pain; however, the heat was not used long enough to cause burns or damage.
During the study, some participants were told that they were about to experience moderate pain, but were instead exposed to severe pain. Their pain ratings were 28% lower than those participants who were expecting severe pain and received severe pain.
MRIs were also used during this study to determine what areas of the brain were activated. The imaging scans showed that the areas of the brain that are triggered during the pain expectation phase partially overlapped with the areas triggered during the pain experience. This suggests that our brains use the expectations of pain to alter the processing of pain signals from our bodies.
Application for Pain Management Clinics
Since expectations can shape pain perception, expectations play a crucial role in the pain management process. The outcomes of a treatment can be significantly impacted by poor or negative expectations. Therefore, expectation management is a key component of the pain management process. Pain management clinics and their doctors should strive to help patients develop realistic, positive expectations. However, it is important to note that there is a delicate balance that must be maintained. Overly positive expectations that are unrealistic can backfire later into the treatment. If high-expectations aren’t met soon into the treatment, the patient may become discouraged and upset. Instead, pain management teams should set more modest and attainable positive expectations.
Apex Medical Center understands the importance of positive and realistic expectations for our patients and their pain management programs. If you are looking for a pain management clinic in Henderson or Las Vegas, contact us for more information and to book an appointment.