The Psychology of Pain

Have you ever noticed that two people can have the same injury, but react differently to it? That is because the way their mind processes pain signals is different, giving us a clue on how we might better manage pain.


Psychology can help the knee osteoarthritis (OA) sufferer in two main ways; managing pain, and helping improve lifestyle and habits.

Managing Pain

Have you ever noticed that two people can have the same injury, but react differently to it? The amount of pain a person feels is not only the result of how severe an injury is. When you are awake, your brain is actively processing and interpreting nerve signals. These can be magnified or minimised, depending upon how important the information is perceived to be, your state of mind and the emotions being felt at the time.

When you have knee OA pain week after week and you perceive that your pain is causing many negative effects in your life, it is quite normal to feel down and frustrated. Thinking you can’t escape the pain can make you feel anxious, apprehensive and trapped. These feelings often result in our brains magnifying the pain signals.

That makes us more aware of the pain, and another vicious cycle can begin:

Having psychological strategies to help you cope with the emotional consequences of OA pain doesn’t get rid of the pain, but they do help you control it and live better.

Improving Lifestyle

When it comes to lifestyle, most of us are quite aware of what we could be doing to improve our health. We all know that smoking is bad, we should eat less junk food, and do more exercise, and so on. However, we rarely do anything about our behaviour. Why?

Psychologists call it the ‘intention-behaviour gap’.

The non-surgical treatment of OA will often involve making lifestyle adjustments and modifications. These might be changes in diet, posture, exercise, medications, sleep or even how much time we spend doing certain activities. Sometimes making these changes is challenging, and we fall into the gap between intention and behaviour.

Having an opportunity to talk through your difficulties with a person who has expertise in helping people change behaviour can be worthwhile. OA is a long-term condition, but with a bit of direction, some realistic goals and good support, you can make a big difference in how much it affects you.

Be Aware

Support to make behavioural changes in your home environment is critical to your adoption of those changes and your eventual success. Getting understanding and support from those you live with is critical. Your psychologist can provide some reading material for them, or sometimes it might be beneficial for them to get involved in making the changes with you.

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