Words do appear to actually hurt! A recent study has found that words such as “plaguing,” “tormenting,” and “grueling” associated with pain triggered specific areas in the “brain matrix” that retain memories of painful experiences. Conversely, negative words that were not pain-related — such as “disgusting,” “terrifying,” and “horrible” did not activate those brain regions. These results were obtained using functional MRI imaging (fMRI).
It’s also interesting that negative perceptions of fear, anxiety, and subsequent suffering are mediated by the limbic brain.
If this research is followed up it may alter the way we deal with pain related situations. Future work needs to answer questions like, “is it possible that by simply discussing pain with a healthcare provider could make it worse?”
It appears that such a chat actually activates the limbic brain in ways that intensify the pain experience for these patients. Does thinking about the pain, as a form of pre-verbalization, make it worse? Further research will be needed to provide answers, but these are questions for healthcare providers to consider if a patient appears to become more agitated and distressed when describing pain symptoms. Read an abstract from the research paper here.