Psychosomatic Pain

Psychosomatic pain is a type of pain that is influenced by psychological factors. The term "psychosomatic" derives from the Greek words for "mind" (psyche) and "body" (soma), reflecting the mind-body connection in these conditions.

This kind of pain does not mean it is imaginary or "all in one's head"; rather, it acknowledges that psychological and emotional factors can significantly influence pain perception and physical manifestation.

At Elevate Psychiatry, our team recognizes the complex interplay between mind and body in cases of psychosomatic pain and offers a comprehensive approach to treatment.

Psychosomatic Pain Basics

Psychosomatic pain can be just as intense and real as pain from any other physical injury or illness. However, its origins are more complex, often involving emotional distress, psychological conflict, or mental health disorders, such as anxiety and depression

Some people think that psychosomatic pain is purely a mental disorder, but that is not entirely true. In fact, it usually refers to a physical problem or disease that worsens or is exacerbated by mental causes. 

For example, chronic stress can lead to increased muscle tension and pain, or anxiety can amplify the experience of pain by increasing the body's sensitivity to pain signals. 

In the same way, that feeling anxious can lead to shortness of breath or even pain, psychosomatic pain can present as a physical symptom inflamed by something going on mentally or emotionally.

Psychosomatic pain might manifest in specific areas of the body, like the back or stomach, without any identifiable medical condition to explain the symptoms.

How Psychosomatic Pain Affects Physical Conditions

At Elevate Psychiatry, we understand that mental health disorders can influence or intensify various physical conditions, including:

  • Skin conditions: Episodes of psychological stress can trigger skin issues like psoriasis or eczema flare-ups. While creams and ointments may alleviate symptoms, addressing the psychological triggers can prevent future occurrences.
  • Circulatory conditions: Mental health challenges, such as stress, anxiety, and depression, can raise blood pressure and even contribute to heart-related issues, indicating a strong mind-body connection.
  • Respiratory conditions: Difficulty in breathing can be a symptom of psychological distress, leading to panic attacks often triggered by stress. This can further complicate conditions for individuals with pre-existing respiratory issues, such as emphysema or asthma.

When psychosomatic pain significantly restricts daily activities and functionality, it's crucial to consider seeking professional guidance.

Psychosomatic Pain Symptoms

Symptoms of psychosomatic pain can vary widely depending on a person’s underlying mental health condition, but generally, they can include:

  • Chronic pain: This pain may persist for months or even longer, often without a clear physical cause.
  • Pain in specific areas: Common areas for psychosomatic pain include the back, stomach, neck, and head, but it can occur anywhere in the body.
  • Variation in pain: The intensity and location of the pain can vary and may not correspond to a specific physical condition.
  • Accompanying psychological symptoms: Feelings of stress, anxiety, depression, or emotional turmoil often accompany the pain.
  • Impact on daily life: The pain can significantly impact a person’s ability to carry out daily activities, work, and personal relationships.
  • Poor response to treatment: Psychosomatic pain often does not respond well to traditional physical treatments, or the pain might return after treatment.
  • Fatigue and sleep issues: Some people may experience fatigue, restlessness, or difficulty sleeping due to or in addition to pain.
  • Gastrointestinal issues: Symptoms such as nausea, diarrhea, or constipation can also be present, especially if the psychosomatic pain is related to stress or anxiety.
  • Headaches and migraines: Frequent headaches or migraines can manifest as psychosomatic pain.
  • Muscle tension: Persistent muscle tension, especially in the neck and shoulders, can indicate psychosomatic pain.

It's important to note that the presence of psychosomatic pain does not imply that the pain is imaginary or not real. The pain is very real to the person experiencing it, and effective treatment often requires addressing both the physical symptoms and the underlying psychological or emotional issues. 

Diagnosing Psychosomatic Pain

Diagnosing psychosomatic pain involves a detailed and often complex process, as it requires ruling out physical causes of pain before attributing symptoms to psychological factors. The diagnosis typically involves the following:

  • Reviewing the patient's medical history to identify patterns indicative of psychosomatic origins
  • Conducting a physical examination and diagnostic tests to exclude physical causes of the pain
  • Undergoing a psychological evaluation to explore stressors, emotional issues, or psychological disorders potentially contributing to the pain
  • Assessing the impact of pain on daily life and functioning

This diagnosis mainly involves excluding certain factors. It is made after physical conditions have been ruled out and psychological factors are considered significant in the pain experience. 

Collaboration between medical and mental health professionals is key to a comprehensive approach, ensuring that all aspects of the patient's health are considered.

Treatment of Psychosomatic Pain

Treating psychosomatic pain normally involves a multidisciplinary approach that addresses both the psychological factors and the physical symptoms of pain. The goal is to manage or alleviate the pain while also treating the underlying psychological issues contributing to the pain. 

Talk Therapy

Different types of talk therapy sessions can be beneficial in addressing underlying emotional and psychological issues that may contribute to psychosomatic pain.

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): This type of therapy helps patients understand the relationship between their thoughts, emotions, and physical symptoms, teaching them coping strategies to manage stress and reduce pain perception.
  • Mindfulness and stress reduction techniques: Practices such as meditation, yoga, and deep breathing exercises can help reduce stress and anxiety, which may alleviate the physical symptoms of pain.


Antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications can play a crucial role in addressing the underlying mental health conditions that contribute to psychosomatic pain, potentially aiding in pain reduction or management. 

Alongside these, pain relievers and anti-inflammatory drugs may also be cautiously employed to alleviate physical symptoms. However, it's important to note that these medications are not the primary focus in the treatment of psychosomatic pain. 

This approach aims more at understanding and tackling the psychological roots of the pain rather than just its physical manifestations.

Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation

Tailored exercise programs improve physical function and reduce pain in managing psychosomatic conditions. In addition to these customized exercise routines, physical therapists often incorporate massage or heat therapy techniques into the treatment plan. 

Lifestyle Changes

Maintaining regular physical activity, adhering to a healthy diet, and ensuring adequate sleep are foundational elements that can significantly improve overall physical health and reduce stress levels. 

Equally important is the avoidance of alcohol, tobacco, and other substances that have the potential to worsen mental health symptoms. Together, these lifestyle adjustments form a comprehensive strategy to enhance well-being and alleviate the factors contributing to psychosomatic conditions.

Education and Support

An important aspect of treating psychosomatic pain involves educating patients about the mind-body connection and the significant impact psychological factors can have on physical health. Understanding this interplay is crucial for patients as they navigate their path to recovery. 

Additionally, providing emotional support through support groups or family therapy plays a vital role. These supportive environments offer patients not only a deeper understanding of their conditions but also the emotional backing needed to face and overcome the challenges associated with psychosomatic pain.

Alternative and Complementary Therapies

Although their effectiveness varies, acupuncture, chiropractic care, and herbal remedies may be explored as complementary treatments. These treatments should be used with traditional medical and psychological treatments.

Treatment plans are highly individualized, based on a person’s specific symptoms, underlying psychological factors, and personal preferences. Collaboration between healthcare providers, including psychologists, psychiatrists, primary care physicians, and physical therapists, is often necessary to provide comprehensive care for psychosomatic pain.

Managing Psychosomatic Pain with Elevate Psychiatry

At Elevate Psychiatry, we use state-of-the-art treatment to get to the root of your psychosomatic pain and tailor a plan just for you.

We listen to you and work alongside you to help you find relief from both your physical and mental health challenges.

Book an appointment online or get in touch with us at one of our three locations:

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