Idiopathic neuropathy – is pain in the body or in the mind…?

The dreaded diagnosis: “it’s all in your mind”

Neurological disorders are disorders of the body’s nervous system. While some have obvious causes, there is a category of neurological disorder that cannot be readily explained: a patient may describe severe pins and needles, numbness, pain, muscle weakness or spasm, but all diagnostic tests are negative.

Conventional medicine’s answer, when there is no other cause to be found, is simple: it’s all in your mind. Patients who fall into this category are then often told that it is their anxiety which is causing the symptoms, and are then possibly referred to a psychiatric department to see whether a mental health issue can be identified.

The implications of this for the patient are profound: one assumes that, if there is an organic, physical cause to a disorder, it can hopefully be treated with medication or another procedure. If there isn’t, and the answer is that the patient is “mad” or “causing it themselves”, they are possibly left feeling confused and hopeless, as well as angry that their very real, physical symptoms are being dismissed.

 Pain - in the mind or in the body?

A different approach – body and mind together

Based on my experience of treating people with traditional acupuncture, I like to take a different approach. Are these neurological disorders in the body? The feelings are very real and physical, altered sensitivity and strength can be assessed, twitching can be observed, so of course they are in the body. Are these neurological disorders in the mind? Symptoms often get worse with stress and anxiety, so of course they are also in the mind. In my tradition, it is not necessary to separate the two, nor is it even desirable.

Mind and body are intricately linked. When we are relaxed mentally, we tend to relax physically, softening our muscles, breathing deeply, increasing blood circulation and the oxygenation of our body. When we are stressed, worried or anxious, we tense up physically and breathe more shallowly, our digestion is impaired and retrieves fewer nutrients from the food we eat – all in all creating conditions that will affect the normal functioning of the body, and can certainly have an effect on the nervous system.

And this is the vicious circle that many of these sufferers find themselves in: whatever the trigger for the initial symptoms was, being told that no cause can be found, and that it’s all in their head, is more than likely to cause a stress response – which will probably make the symptoms worse, which in turn will probably cause more stress, and on we go. Body and mind are in this disorder together.

Breaking out of the vicious circle

In actual fact, being told that no physical cause can be found for a disorder and that it’s all in the person’s mind, is without a doubt, wonderful news: it means that, given the right therapeutic approach, the condition is fully reversible.

The key here lies in reversing the vicious circle. Practitioner and patient must work as a team: I use acupuncture (which, amongst other systems, has a proven effect on the nervous system) to help normalise body functions. The patient must have the desire to relax and be open to changing their lifestyle (diet, exercise, ways of dealing with stress, etc). With these two approaches combined, we can start to restore the body’s normal functioning again, building up the patient’s trust in their body and gradually reversing the condition.


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