Pain: Is it physical or is it all in your head?

Pain and stress are inevitable aspects of our everyday lives. The source of these discomforts stem from a myriad of locations, whether it is a fall on the stairs or the thought of an impending deadline. The solution to pain management is just as varied, and facilities such as Shift Integrative Medicine incorporate many aspects of healing to provide people with a rehabilitation regimen that is designed personally for each individual.

Outside of traditional medicine are practices like Shift, which combines therapeutic processes ranging from physical therapy to acupuncture. Clinical Director Patrick Walsh encompasses the goal of his practice by stating: “Science and traditional medicine are excellent, but the question is, can they be better?”

Walsh along with the rest of the staff at Shift, attempt not only to mitigate pain, but also to provide a holistic approach that will allow people to restructure their lifestyles for a healthier outcome. The team at Shift understands that pain is chronic, and that in order to tackle the issue of pain, it is important to confront and comprehend the pain from within.

When patients complete an intake form, they are asked a series of questions that deviate from the standard intake form one would see at a physical therapy office. Aside from questions about diet and sleep patterns, these questions are also designed to gauge what a client is experiencing in different aspects of their lives and where they derive stress and pain from outside of the injury. Walsh explains that the questionnaire is intended to tap into a client’s spiritual, emotional, and psychological status and this will ultimately help clients find the proper treatment plan. Yet Walsh feels that a necessary starting point for all clients should be through “Mind and Body Physical Therapy.”

Anu Abraham the Mind and Body Physical Therapist, sat me down in a warmly lit room closed off by a folding partition. In her room were aromatic oils and calm instrumental music. Amidst our conversation, she paused and said, “You can take a breath now. You haven’t taken one in two to three minutes.” Surrounding the client with a warm and supportive environment is a key element in Anu’s work and she achieves this by creating a safe space for people to attune to their vulnerabilities at their own space. Her simplistic room, although aesthetically pleasing, has functional purposes. The aromatic essential oils have been suggested in a number of studies to provide physiological and psychological relief.

Anu's intuitive and observant mannerisms are appropriate for the work she does with her clients because she seeks to reacquaint a person’s body with their mind. By establishing this connection, a person can address their stressors and begin to release the pains within the body. The Mind-Body approach is firmly rooted in the notion that the subconscious mind has a direct relationship with the wellness of the body and that by adjusting one’s mindset through introspection and greater self-awareness, an individual can begin the process of healing.

How do approaches such as Anu’s prove beneficial to people experiencing chronic pain? In addition to greater emotional wellness, Mind-Body acts in a way that allows the person to react to the therapy at a neurological level. Physical activity allows for the brain to release neurotransmitters known as endorphins, which minimize a person’s perception of pain by activating the opiate receptors in the brain. The release of endorphins not only reduces pain, but also provides feelings of euphoria, which further aids in stress relief. Individuals facing recurring pains in their bodies have the chance to rewire their inner mechanisms through practices such as focused breathing and improved posture via Mind Body, while also releasing important body chemicals that ease pain and stress.

Anu Abraham and her colleagues at Shift Integrative Medicine believe in the potential for a person to change the trajectory of their life so that a person is not only able to achieve a healed state but is able to prevent it in the future. She shared with me the secret behind Mind-Body and revealed her keys to success: “Practice – anything you create while knowing or unknowing – you can un-create. It takes patience, practice and gentleness… and honesty is everything…there will be no transformation without that.”


So if pain can be managed by accessing the subconscious and by activating brain chemicals, is pain an exterior phenomenon or is it really all in your head?

Tazin BanuComment