On Psychosomatic Pain - Is It All Just In Your Head?

Have you ever gone to the doctor knowing something is wrong with you, had blood tests and x-rays and test after test, only to find out “nothing” is wrong? Or have you had a friend talk about an illness that is “all in her head”? Do you assume that when someone says your pain is “psychosomatic” that it means you’re just making it up?

I see these things come up in my practice over and over again. People who are frustrated with a medical system that has no answers for them. Patients who have been dismissed by their doctor, or given an anti-depressant or anti-anxiety pill, to cure what is more than likely not a severe mental health issue. Men and women who can feel into their bodies and know something isn’t right, yet are told: “Your problem is just psychosomatic”.

But psychosomatic doesn’t mean that your complaint doesn’t exist.

The “psych” part of this word refers to the psyche, the mind, thoughts and feelings, and “soma” is referencing the physical body. So, while this term is used with negative connotations by many, it actually only means mind and body.

I interpret this as an imbalance that affects both the body and the mind. For example, chronic stress and anxiety that leads to neck pain and migraines. Or the reverse, a painful disc herniation, which creates worry and fear that it will never get better. Which is to say, pretty much every health issue that has ever existed that lasted more than a few weeks.

Humans are more than just complex machines. We have emotions that constantly affect our physical body, and vice versa. 

Thankfully, Chinese Medicine treats the entire body and mind.

East Asian medical theory acknowledges the whole mind/body interaction, and provides many tools for working with it. Many acupuncture points are known as “spirit points” that, with the right application, can be used to effect the emotions. In addition, a number of herbs have actions that calm the spirit, or soothe the qi. Some practitioners even assign qi gong movement exercises that manage excess emotions.

On the other hand, these same tools - acupuncture, herbs, qi gong - are used to effect the body. They increase circulation and relieve pain, enhance immune function, balance hormones, and more.

I’m breaking it down here to make a point, but in reality, it’s quite difficult to separate these treatments. Every treatment I give works on multiple levels. I may emphasize one or the other more, depending on the individual, but in this medicine the body and mind are so entwined that you can’t separate them.

This is the beauty of Acupuncture.

Ever been told your pain was just psychosomatic? Share your experience with us.


Elizabeth Williams is an acupuncturist in Greenville, South Carolina, specializing in pain management, women’s health, and psycho-emotional issues. She’s passionate about helping people feel their best and sharing her wealth of knowledge with the community. Elizabeth is the owner of Dragonfly Acupuncture & Massage, on Wade Hampton Boulevard. Appointments can be made by calling 864-451-4313, or scheduled online here.