Saturday, October 4, 2014

How You Feel Affects How You Heal

Here’s a study that tells us something rather intuitive.
People who tend to blame others for their suffering and think setbacks in their lives are irreparable tend to report more pain after knee replacement surgery, according to a new study.
Ordinarily, I’d deride this sort of finding as one for the annals of Captain Obvious. Nothing surprising here.

But the larger point is worth underscoring.

People who are gloomy fault finders, looking to blame others for their misfortune, are most likely going to do worse at everything from healing and managing pain to standing in a long line for pizza without exploding. When it comes to one’s health, there is such a thing as a “negativity tax.” I’m convinced of that.

Attitude matters. If yours is, “Okay, I’m going to try X to heal my knees, but nothing else has worked and this probably won’t either,” then guess what? It probably won’t. Because you’ll undertake the program half-heartedly, with the built-in expectation of failure. How many people do you know who have achieved a difficult goal have an approach of “Oh well, let’s see what happens, but I’m really pessimistic?”

Now, for those interested, some details on the study:

A group of 116 men and women (age 50 to 85) who were scheduled for knee surgery took part. Before the surgery, they filled out questionnaires that assessed “perceived injustice, how much they think about or worry about pain and their fear of movement or re-injury.” A year after surgery, they were surveyed again. Those who (before surgery) felt helpless because of their pain and judged life as unfair did worse after the operation, even after controlling for such factors as age, sex, and prior pain levels.

To be fair, there is a wrinkle here:
Researchers don’t yet know if people with more negative outlooks only perceive their pain as worse than others or if their psychological state affects the physiology of healing and actually leads to more pain.
Still, pain is pain, and I’m not sure it’s much different to have level 5 pain and think it’s level 9 than to have level 9 pain in the first place.


  1. Surely I can't be the only one who feels like banging their head against the wall when the pains start again?
    I have tried a walking plan for over a year now. I've made many mistakes, like walking too fast, too hard, too long. At some points I have been completely pain free only to overdo it and cancel weeks of steady progress.
    I always looked on the bright side and even managed to laugh at my limping self. But I'm starting to feel a bit gloomy now. In the last 6 months, I've made very little progress. I am walking as slowly as I can, I used a walking stick for 2 months and still use it every now and then. I started an anti inflammatory diet which I'm following religiously (and I think that contributes to the gloomy feeling since there is not much fun in said diet). I started hydrotherapy 6 weeks ago and while I initially found great relief, I seem to have hit a plateau, but it could be that we have stepped up the exercises and they are a bit too much.

    Honestly, I sometimes despair because all my waking moments are spent thinking about my knees. I need my life back! I'm also starting to wonder whether the damage has extended? I had a MRI last April that showed nothing, but could it be that even following a regime of slow walking and nothing else (I even vacuum the floor sitting down, for christ's sake!) cause more damage?

    1. Hang in there! I remember hitting a patch where I thought for a few months I wasn't making any progress. Now I think I actually was, but it just wasn't perceptible. In any event, hydrotherapy and walking sound like good exercise. Can you hill walk at all, without symptoms? Challenge is coming back down -- but going up can be a good workout. Of course don't do it if it's too hard.

    2. This is my experience too. Going down causes much more grief than going up.

      Deloupy, I feel your angst. I too had some good progress, especially after PRP injections and actually had some days where I thought the end was in sight as I forgot about my knees. But it was not to be. A few what I thought were benign activities and the old pain came back.

      cheers, TriAgain