The Science of Connection: How It Helps People in Pain

The Science of Connection: How It Helps People in Pain

Connection Can Make People Feel Better

Hugs and friendship … the combination of that connection can make people feel better. Science has proven it, and that’s the type of news I want to share.

First, a disclaimer. I don’t mean to trivialize pain or turn the discussion into a Shirley Temple film.

I have dedicated more than three decades to becoming an expert in the field of pain management. My mission is to help people in pain receive safe and effective treatments. I actively work within the industry to bring about innovations for chronic pain and addiction.

Pain is a serious topic, and I don’t want to suggest we can eliminate the problem through anything as simple as love.

Compassion must lead us forward while science lights the way.TM

Compassion and Science

We need both compassion and science to bring improvements for patients. Different pain patients have different reasons for their pain, and we’ll need a variety of answers to compassionately and safely manage pain for everyone. Some of those answers might seem like science fiction now, but researchers are already on the path to bring brilliant mindboggling ideas to the field of pain medicine that go well beyond anything that we have available now.

In the meantime, we do have two tools to treat pain. They’re non-addictive, they’re legal, and they’re pretty effective. And, yes, those who enjoy watching Shirley Temple movies (and I plead guilty to being one of them) will appreciate these methods.

Hugs and friendship. They actually work to fight the debilitating effects of pain.

Hugs make us feel better. So does touch. Knowing that someone cares is pure magic!

This is true for people of all ages, from all walks of life, either in pain or in perfect health. Hugging provides chemical benefits, and nearly everyone is capable of providing those benefits to people about whom they sincerely care.

Of course, most pharmaceutical companies  would rather tout the chemical benefits of medication or other therapies for pain. But maybe that’s because they, too, are in the hugs deficit mode.

Another free treatment for pain is friendship. Of course, Dr. Rob Garfield’s book, “Breaking the Male Code: Unlocking the Power of Friendship,” focuses on how close friendships benefit mental health for men.

But we all need community and connection. We are a social species. Dr. Garfield’s truth applies to men, but it also is significant for women.

There may be a gender difference in how we relate to our society, but people of both genders need some form of connection. This is even more important when there is illness.

In his recently published book, Tribe, author and veteran advocate Sebastian Junger describes how important it is for soldiers who develop PTSD to return to a cohesive supporting and nonjudgmental society. He suggests that a lack of a tribal experience, which is what soldiers feel when they return from serving their country, is the antithesis of what a soldier experiences in the battlefield.

Men (and women) don’t have to go to war to be part of a tribe. People are part of a tribe with or without war, and with or without PTSD.

A tribe provides emotional connectedness that heals. People who experience physical or mental pain can gain strength from friendships and from knowing someone cares.

Importance of Community

So community is important for soldiers who are returning from deployments, and it’s important for all of us as well. Those who are in pain need to know that they’re part of a tribe, too, and that they’re not going through their illness alone.

What does this mean?

If you want to help a loved one who is in pain, you don’t need to be a doctor. You can provide the medicine your family member or friend needs: hugs, kind words, and empathetic listening.

During this Memorial Day weekend, we should pay tribute to our fallen soldiers for their sacrifices and love for our country by expressing similar expressions of caring to our family and friends.

Hugs and caring are gifts that we can provide anywhere, at any time. And science has lit the way.


Purchase my book The Painful Truth: What Chronic Pain Is Really Like and Why It Matters to Each of Us (available on Amazon) or read a free excerpt here.

the painful truth, lynn webster, md, chronic pain

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Copyright 2016, Lynn Webster, MD

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