In 1996, Kerri Strug helped the U.S. women’s gymnastics team win an Olympic gold medal when she stuck a landing from the vault with two torn ligaments in her left ankle. This superathlete overcame acute pain not just because of her competitive nature, but also because of her sense of being part of a community of teammates, coaches and fans who loved and supported her.
But you don’t need to be an athlete to discover just what a powerful pain reliever social attachment can provide. A new paper in Nature Scientific Reports reveals that the brain’s natural pain-muting, pleasure-enhancing neuropeptides -- endorphins -- are more powerful than opioids, and the larger and stronger your social network, the more pain tolerance and relief they provide. Unfortunately for folks with chronically painful conditions like arthritis or fibromyalgia, pain often is accompanied by anxiety, depression or even cognition problems, and they can trigger a retreat from social interaction.
So whether you are dealing with a chronic pain condition or pain from surgery or injury, make it a point to reach out to the world around you: Stay in touch with family and friends, rely on health-care-based support groups for companionship, and get engaged in work, volunteering and hobbies that put you into a group environment. With all the concern about overuse of prescription pain meds, anything that reduces your need for medication is a vital part of healing or managing chronic disease. Reach for the endorphins that social attachments provide.
Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen, M.D. is Chief Wellness Officer and Chair of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. To live your healthiest, tune into “The Dr. Oz Show” or visit www.sharecare.com.