There is a very basic mechanism at the heart of most chronic illnesses, whether they are physical illnesses, mental illnesses or imagined illnesses. This is simply known as the pain avoidance mechanism.
The one thing that all living creatures share is an aversion to pain. One of the most basic advantages in natural selection is that creatures that avoid pain are more likely to survive and pass on their genes. As animal life evolved into modern day humans, with our outsized brains, the pain avoidance mechanism also grew to outsized proportions and took on new forms. We humans now go to great lengths to avoid pain, whether it is physical, mental, emotional, social, or any other form.
But what served our ancestral species so well on the savannah is not necessarily a good thing to carry with us in human bodies, particularly when the pain response is not linked to avoiding actual physical harm. Scientists have discovered just a few years ago that there are a number of areas in the brain that are responsible for processing pain, and this network is something called a pain matrix.
So what does this mean for arthritis? Arthritis is inflammation in a joint, and there are over 150 types of arthritis. The causes of arthritis are varied, so obviously the treatment for arthritis is also equally varied. However, in many cases the cause of the arthritis remains unknown, and scanning the affected joint shows inflammation but no clue as to why it is inflamed.
But there is now an intriguing hypothesis that changes in emotional state in the brain can cause stimulation of the pain matrix, which then inflames the joint! What this means is that in many cases where otherwise healthy people develop arthritis, there is a real possibility that the arthritis is induced by their emotional condition, and therefore, treating the emotional issues can resolve the arthritis.
We know already about the power of the mind from the placebo effect. The placebo effect, which shows that treatments work simply when patients believe that they work, is scientifically proven. So certain forms of arthritis and other inflammations can simply be the negative form of the placebo effect. In other words, patients feel real pain and real symptoms of illness simply because at some level they believe they are sick, or they are undergoing emotional distress that shows up as real symptoms of physical illness.