Getting to the Bottom of Common Pain Myths

The flip side of the myth that emotions have no effect on pain is the misconception that pain is all in your head. Many causes of chronic pain are invisible to the naked eye, but this doesn't mean that it's not there -- even if a specific reason for it can't be determined. Scientists say there is data that when people are in pain, brain scanning images or fMRIs show the brain is actually involved.

Some patients also mistakenly view a doctor's attempt to put them on antidepressants for their pain or a referral to a psychologist as proof that their physician doesn't believe their pain is real. Dr. Carol Warfield, who is in the department of anesthesia, critical care and pain medicine at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, said pain is often treated with antidepressants.

"They are real painkillers. It doesn't mean people think you're crazy," Warfield said.

Even so, working with a mental health professional can help to reframe chronic pain so you regain more control over it and can function better.

Myth: You should take as little pain medication as you need.

Many people undertreat their pain out of fear that they will become dependent on or addicted to the pain-relieving medication they are taking. But according to Green, it's rare to develop an addiction when you have acute or chronic pain or even cancer-related pain, unless you have a predisposition to addiction or a history of it.



When using painkillers, the idea is to stay ahead of the pain, Warfield said. You want to take a medication before you get pain, and take it exactly as the dosage directions are written, say it's every six hours, whether you're feeling any discomfort or not. If you get ahead of the pain, this prevents the body from releasing all sorts of substances that make pain worse.

Warfield also said there's no need to feel as though you just have to live with pain. She suggested seeking out a pain clinic, where even if "we can't help you get rid of 100 percent of the pain, we can help a great amount and also help you to cope with it."

Myth: Weather has no influence on joint pain.

Although the exact scientific mechanism is unclear, weather appears to influence joint pain. But it's more likely that barometric pressure is what seems to make a difference rather than heat or humidity, Warfield said.

One theory is that a change in barometric (or air) pressure, which tends to drop during a storm, might lead to a temporary increase in inflammation, pain and stiffness. The reason might be that joints have nerve endings with receptors that can pick up on pressure changes.



Cold temperatures can also make certain types of pain worse. One possible explanation is that when there's a chill in the air, your entire body might tense up and tighten. As a result, your joints might feel stiffer, achier and harder to move.

People with arthritis often say they feel better in a drier, warmer climate, and that's probably true. But there might not be solid evidence to explain why weather has an effect on joint pain.

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