People sometimes brush off the placebo effect as “only in the mind”. But take a moment to appreciate how amazing this effect is and how powerful our mind power can be.
You take a pill, that your brain thinks will help you – your pain lessens.
You see a health professional who matches your hopes and expectations in terms of how they look and communicate with you – your pain lessens.
It’s incredible. It reminds us that pain is a helpful message perceived in the brain (“no brain, no pain”), and when your brain is convinced you have things under control it can wind down the strength of that message. Therefore effectively lessening the volume switch of pain. For free!
Now I can hear some of you thinking that placebo cannot wash away all pain and problems, especially when underlying pathology exists, and this is true of course. If you have a splinter in your foot, there is no better management than digging that splinter out.
However, the placebo effect reminds us of the power of thoughts and beliefs. If we can utilise these thoughts and beliefs positively, to lessen our pain and suffering, then all the better.
So what do we mean by the placebo effect?
The placebo effect is by definition:
A psychological phenomenon, in which the recipient perceives an improvement in condition due to personal expectations, rather than the treatment itself
For example research into placebo effect has shown us:
In one study, fake knee surgery was as effective as real knee surgery
This study rocked the world at the time, but will likely not be repeated due to ethical reasons. Moseley et al in the USA tracked progress of rehab over two years and found those who had had “sham” surgery (unknowing to them the control group had just two pin hole incisions and no more done to the knee) had the same outcomes as those who had the knee operated on.
See more detail here.
That the look and feel of capsules and tablets influence their effect
There are many a study showing us that for the same strength of medication, we can be affected by the look and feel of the medication of we take. There are so many studies of this I don’t even know what to reference. Google “placebo pill colour” or words to that effect and knock yourself out with evidence.
Seeing a Health professional is not just about the “treatment”
Years of research and reviews by people like Ted Kaptchuk reveal that when we see a health professional the outcome of the session will be influenced by many factors including how they look, how they communicate with you, their belief systems, your belief systems and the appearance of the clinic itself.
See more details on Kaptchuk’s extensive research into placebo here.
Intrigued to know more?
Check out this list of ten crazy facts about placebo. It’s fascinating stuff…
So how can we use this knowledge to help us?
The point of this discussion is to remind us of the power of positive thinking. In my experience pain is influenced by three main factors:
- Our physical state of wellbeing
- Our social world (beliefs / pressures on us / etc.)
- Our psychological state
Not all pain, but some pain is highly influenced by the latter and understanding this is the key to a quicker recovery. Remember the whole VOMIT thing in a recent blog? See here for a reminder of that: http://www.phwgroup.com.au/blog/dont-be-a-vomit/
Our minds can be powerful tools of self sabotage or self help depending on what we choose to believe.
When engaging a health professional to assist with workplace or clinical services ensure you feel in control of the process and that all your questions have been answered. This is good self management and helps set your mind into a mode that promotes health and wellbeing.
Have a healthy and productive day,