As a physiotherapist, I have been trained to physically rehabilitate my patients. Whether it be from a surgery, a chronic disease, an injury, or wear and tear on the body, I am able to help facilitate healing, repair soft tissue, promote muscle activation, and heal injuries in a way that promotes function. That is my job- to physically repair an injury. And I take my job very seriously. The indication of my ability, success, and skill as a physiotherapist is helping patients rehab safely and effectively to return to their everyday activities. I want to help my patients walk out my door, and not come back- because they have rehabilitated their injury, and are equipped with the tools to prevent further injury, maintain the gains we made in clinic, and have been educated in a way to lead a healthier life.
Over my years of working with patients, I have come to better understand, and realize the importance of treating a patient as a whole. Not as a knee injury, or an ankle sprain, a wrist fracture or a concussion- as a whole person. As a whole body that is connected and can be influenced by more than just the tissue at fault. As a person who can be affected by their beliefs, their understanding of their injury, by negative and positive thoughts. A person who has responsibility, who has fear, perhaps anxiety, or denial. I have come to see in real life the effects and power of the mind body connection. I have come to appreciate the complexity of that connection. And… that I will not get my patient physically better if I don’t acknowledge this connection and cater my rehab program accordingly.
What is the mind body connection?
Simply- it’s our thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and attitudes that can positively or negatively affect our biological functioning. In other words, our minds can affect how healthy our bodies are! The brain and peripheral nervous system, the endocrine and immune systems, and all the organs of our body and all the emotional responses we have, share a common chemical language and are constantly communicating with one another.
Research has found that a new form of talking therapy is a credible and promising treatment for people with chronic low back pain who are also suffering from related psychological stress. One study showed that patients preferred a combination of talking therapy and physiotherapy to address both the psychological and physical aspects of their back pain. This is the mind body connection!
The mind body connection is a two way street. Our mind can directly influence our biological functioning. On the other hand, what we do with our physical body (what we eat, how much we exercise, even our posture) can impact our mental state (again positively or negatively). This results in a complex interrelationship between our minds and bodies. It’s important to note that “mind” is not synonymous with brain. Instead, in our definition, the mind consists of mental states such as thoughts, emotions, beliefs, attitudes, and images. The brain is the hardware that allows us to experience these mental states. Mental states can be fully conscious or unconscious. We can have emotional reactions to situations without being aware of why we are reacting. Each mental state has a physiology associated with it—a positive or negative effect felt in the physical body. For example, the mental state of anxiety causes you to produce stress hormones.
Awareness of the mind-body connection is by no means new. Until approximately 300 years ago, virtually every system of medicine throughout the world treated the mind and body as a unit. But during the 17th century, the Western world started to see the mind and body as two distinct entities. In this view, the body was kind of like a machine, complete with replaceable, independent parts, with no connection whatsoever to the mind. The body was simply a casing for the mind.
History of the mind body connection:
This Western viewpoint had definite benefits, acting as the foundation for advances in surgery, trauma care, pharmaceuticals, and other areas of medicine. However, it also greatly reduced scientific inquiry into humans’ emotional and spiritual life, and downplayed their innate ability to heal.
In the 20th century, this view gradually started to change. Researchers began to study the mind-body connection and scientifically demonstrate complex links between the body and mind. And the research is ongoing, there isn’t one right answer. But, we do know that the body is connected- all parts of the body. There is communication, interaction, and complexity that governs our movement, behaviour, actions and ability to heal.
So- isn’t it time we start to acknowledge the connection, collaboration, and continue to treat our injuries/pain/disease as effectively and efficiently as possible? Isn’t it time to treat the body as a whole, to include the mind in physical injury, and include the body in emotional upheaval? I think so.
By Charlotte Anderson