Pain desensitization is a procedure designed to teach individuals how to control their pain. It is a step-by-step process in which individuals learn how to focus attention on their pain while relaxing at the same time. Most people are afraid of pain and try to cope with it by ignoring it or fighting it. However, this causes the individual to tense up and results in more pain. Practicing pain desensitization (focusing on pain but relaxing at the same time) results in a decrease in pain intensity. This appears to be due in part to an improved sense of self-control. Relaxing in the presence of pain may also allow the body to produce endorphins, the body's own naturally occurring �pain killers�. It appears that 'anxiety about pain' may interfere with the body's ability to produce endorphins. If relaxing in the presence of pain allows the body to produce endorphins, then pain levels will decrease. Whether its more endorphins or improved self-control or both, many people are able to decrease pain intensity, at least a small amount, during the period of time that they are using the procedure. Others are able to reduce their pain more significantly and some people can reduce their pain to zero while doing the procedure.
Learning pain desensitization does not mean focusing on the pain all the time. Distraction is still a helpful strategy. However, there are times when it is very difficult to distract oneself from pain and the pain feels overwhelming. These are the times that the pain desensitization technique can be used to turn down the intensity of the pain.
Pain desensitization can also be used to help reduce dependence on analgesics (pain killers). If an analgesic takes about 25 minutes to work, the individual can take the analgesic and then start the pain desensitization procedure (using the pain desensitization CD) about 10 minutes later. The pain levels will start to decrease due to the analgesic, but with repeated pairings, this effect will become associated with the desensitization procedure. After repeating this combination a number of times (usually daily for two to four weeks), the individual may find that they can now get the same effect using a lower dose of the analgesic. This procedure can facilitate a graduated withdrawal from analgesic medication.
Pain desensitization is a procedure learned over time through a formal process in training sessions, combined with home practice with a pain desensitization CD. It is usually provided in combination with other interventions such as biofeedback training and cognitive behavioural therapy.
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Martyn R. Thomas, M.A., C.Psych.Assoc.
Practice in Clinical and Counselling Psychology and Applied Psychophysiology
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