It’s all in your head? Undiagnosed chronic pain.

How often have you heard that you or someone you know has been told undiagnosed chronic pain is ‘all in their head’ as there is no obvious injury?

We all have friends and family with an undiagnosed pain due to doctors being unable to find a physical cause. So we are told, or it is implied, that it’s all in our head. And once it is all in our head, conventional medicine has abdicated responsibility for finding a solution.

This may be due to health services being massively overstretched, or maybe due to a lack of understanding about undiagnosed pain and how it manifests. However, for those suffering from long-term undiagnosed chronic pain, it’s not all in their heads; it’s not made up, it’s real, and it affects them and the people they love every day.

Dr Monty Lyman was educated in the classic doctor’s way: physical pain has a physical cause. However, he suffered from acute IBS and tried the conventional routes with no effect. Much like many, he turned to hypnotherapy as a last resort.

In ‘The Painful Truth: The New Science of Why We Hurt and How We Can Heal’, Lyman, driven by his own voyage of discovery, explores how hypnotherapy is an alternative to the constraints of conventional medicine. His exploration of the nature of chronic pain led him to the understanding that there was often a common cycle.

A ‘normal’ reaction to pain is a bit like this:

Short term physical injury

nerve signals to the brain

sensation of pain

injury heals

pain sensations stop

After all, pain is there to warn us of harm (to our bodies and minds) and reduce the chance of further damage.

However, for some, it looks more like this

Short term physical injury

nerve signals to the brain

sensation of pain

injury heals

brain has become wired to be over-sensitive – possibly as a result of emotional trauma (the result of physical trauma?)

pain sensations don’t stop

This can be a cause of undiagnosed chronic pain.

So, it’s all in the brain, not all in our heads!

As Lyman continued his research, he explored hypnotherapy to combat undiagnosed chronic pain. Trance state as pain management has been used for about 4,600 years: it was documented by Wong Tai, the codifier of Chinese Medicine and has been practised in various forms since then, but it became less prevalent as modern analgesics were invented (and marketed); however, it is having somewhat of a resurgence. There is an increasingly large number of research projects, even though it is difficult for a wide range of therapists to follow the same routines with the same symptoms in clients etc. etc. To put this into context, a review of studies in 2014 concluded that ‘Neurophysiological studies reveal that hypnotic analgesia has clear effects on brain and spinal-cord functioning ‘( 2), yet we continue to rely on ‘modern’ responses, i.e. physical therapy plus tablets and often highly addictive opioids that don’t seem to work and create dependency.

Lyman’s story is a happy one: he found pain relief from his IBS in the form of hypnosis and now, quite clearly, he is an advocate.

What can we learn from this? Inevitably, when we open our minds to possibilities, change becomes more likely. More importantly, unexplained chronic pain is real and can be treated as such by accessing the subconscious mind: yes, it is all in our brains…

(1) Lyman, M (2021) The Painful Truth: The New Science of Why We Hurt and How We Can Heal

(2) Mark P Jensen, David R Patterson (2014) Hypnotic approaches for chronic pain management: clinical implications of recent research findings