I’ll be honest and say I think I may be slightly neurotic and that’s why I have so much trouble recovering after even the slightest injury. Are other people like this? What can I do to change the way my mind operates?

You must have some specific thoughts in mind or examples of how your thinking goes that leads you to make these observations about yourself. Without some idea of what those are, we can fill you in on some research that is being done in this area regarding chronic pain sufferers.

In a recent study from the Division of Brain, Imaging, and Behaviour at the University of Toronto, patients with chronic pain after a peripheral nerve injury were compared to patients with the same injury who didn’t develop chronic pain. The study also included a control group of healthy adults with no injuries.

They based their research on some theories about why some people have a poor recovery after nerve injury. Experts suspect personality, psychologic factors, and belief systems as the main reasons for impaired nerve regeneration. They name three specific individual factors addressed in this study: neuroticism, extraversion, and pain catastrophizing.

Let’s look at the one you are most interested in: neuroticism. Neuroticism describes the way a person views his or her world. They experience most of life in a negative emotional state. They see even the ordinary day-to-day events as threatening.

When it comes to pain, they focus on the sensation and become what is referred to as hypervigilant. That means they have a tendency to scan their body frequently for any sign of discomfort or pain. If there is a particular body part in pain or malfunctioning, they focus on that 24/7. They see any symptom (especially pain) as very disturbing until everything is blown way out of proportion.

Patients in the study had a transected (cut completely) nerve to the wrist and hand. They had surgery to repair the damage. Those had the worst results were more likely to focus on every aspect of their pain day and night. This behavior is referred to as pain vigilance. With pain vigilance comes pain-related fear of movement.

People with neurotic tendencies see their symptoms as threatening. Anxiety becomes a key feature in a cycle of vigilance-fear-avoidance-disability. Treatment is usually directed at changing thought patterns, beliefs, and practices. This type of counseling is referred to as cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT.

If you think you might benefit from this type of training, speak to your physician about getting a referral. Self-awareness is the first step in changing how we think and act. Getting some tools to use and practicing with them can be very helpful in establishing new patterns of thought and action that can influence healing and recovery from minor to major injuries, illnesses, and diseases.