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It Hurts to be Sad & Angry: A Physical Therapist Discusses the Link Between Mood and Pain October 4, 2010
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Lisa B. Minn, PT About the Author
Lisa B. Minn, PT

A recent study from the Netherlands shows that women are more sensitive to pain when they are feeling sad or angry. This study should come as no surprise to yogis, therapists (of all kinds) or anyone who works with those in pain. But I appreciate those out there doing good research to ‘prove’ that the mind is a powerful force that manifests in the body.

Of course negative emotions can affect your threshold for physical pain! Haven’t yogis, therapists and other mind-body advocates been aware of this for decades, perhaps centuries? But having evidence such as this is helpful for many reasons. Insurance providers may be more willing to provide ‘alternative’ therapies if there is solid proof that it may be more cost-effective than simply medicating patients or doing nothing. Studies such as these are also useful as references when educating a patient as to why addressing the mind is a valuable and sometimes essential element to their rehabilitation. As most Physical Therapists know, patients can sometimes become defensive if they perceive a suggestion that their pain is ‘in their head’. Other patients simply don’t believe that mind-body techniques are an effective use of their time. Studies like this can help many patients to try a new strategy they may have been resistant to or just unaware of.

The article mentions Cognitive Behavioral Therapy as a strategy to combat negative emotions. I would expect that there are many meditation techniques that may also be effective, at least in relatively mild cases. (If you suspect serious anxiety, depression, emotional trauma, etc find a mental health professional as quickly as possible).

Recently I had the pleasure of attending a meditation workshop called “Mind Dragons” with Sally Kempton. She taught a meditation technique that I think might be effective in addressing this particular mind-body link. Here’s what I recall:

*Think of a time that you were very sad or angry about something.
*Use pen and paper to write a story about that time.
*Read the story and circle all the words that feel emotionally charged to you.
*Begin to meditate on those words.
*Try to become aware of physical sensations associated with those words.
*Feel the density of those emotions. Where do you feel it? Can you sense a color or shape?
*Visualize breaking up that emotional energy, scattering the particles into the space outside of your body until you no longer feel their weight.
*Then (here’s the interesting part) gather those particles back, compressing them once again inside your body.
*Repeat the release, sending the emotion away

You can repeat this visualization of gathering and releasing as many times as you like. The point of the exercise is to really learn how to feel the emotions, thus diffusing the their power. She explained that our emotions, like dragons, can be the fierce guardians of treasure. If we can learn to ‘ride the dragon’ or to feel our emotions without fear, we can have access to a treasure trove of whatever lays behind the emotion. That could be peace of mind, wisdom, better health or perhaps, a higher pain threshold.

This study, published in the October issue of Arthritis Care & Research, included only women with and without fibromyalgia. It would be interesting to repeat this study with other groups including men and children and those with other types of chronic pain conditions. We need more research like this to integrate traditional and holistic care.


By the way, I also want to recognize my readers out there in Australia, Japan, and Canada and everywhere else in the world. Thanks for reading!




Lisa Minn is a licensed physical therapist and yoga enthusiast.  She has been incorporating aspects of Yoga and Pilates into her physical therapy practice since 2001 and became a certified yoga instructor in 2004.  Her experience ranges from working with athletes at West Point and Georgetown to instructing elderly and wheelchair-bound clients in the fundamentals of Hatha Yoga.  Lisa has conducted several lectures and workshops across the US, as well as in Honduras and Peru, where she volunteered her services.  She currently resides and practices in Northern California.  This and other articles by Lisa can be found at The Pragmatic Yogi.

The viewpoint expressed in this article is the opinion of the author and is not necessarily the viewpoint of the owners or employees at Healthcare Staffing Innovations, LLC.

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Lisa B. Minn (Sausalito) on 15 Oct 2010 at 2:28 pm

Linda, You make a good point about so-called negative emotions. Difficult emotions, like acute pain, are signs that we need to take care of ourselves. But I'm sure that emotions can become chronic, just like physical pain, and it takes a different level of therapy and commitment to deal with their negative impact.

As to how we apply this within our PT practices... I'm not quite sure. I think that establishing a good network of referral sources is important, such as meditation classes, psychologists, and counselors.

I wonder how other PTs account for the mind element in their practices?

Linda Meneken, PT (Concord/San Francisco) on 15 Oct 2010 at 1:21 pm

Lisa, thank you for a great article on mind-body connections and emotions. Mood and attitude are so important. I feel that sadness and anger are not always completely negative emotions; they can prepare us or instruct us in different pathways to take, if we just give them the amount of time and value they really deserve...And also, I feel if anyone ever says, "I never get angry or sad", they do not have true honesty or truthfulness in their human spirit. What do you think? To be human is to be (sometimes) angry or sad, but hopefully not on a conscious, continuous, long term basis....How do we apply all this, as professionals, to ourselves, and to our patients, as we all age into our 50's - 100's? Our second half of life? Healthy aging, but ah, that is a whole other topic.....

Thanks once again; please join my Linked In Profile group so that we may remain connected in the future (both in No. CA).

Linda Meneken, PT

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