I got to thinking awhile back about beliefs and how they affect us. It generated this post which applies to things far beyond running but … definitely running too.
The Placebo Effect: The placebo effect is [most commonly found or described as] a medical phenomena in which a person’s beliefs about an inert substance or a sham therapy results in that treatment having the expected consequences of those beliefs upon health. The placebo effect can also be an additional boost for a real therapy or drug beyond that warranted solely by its actual physiological action. (Wikipedia)
Many people think that if it is “all in your head” that it isn’t real – much like how people think about psychosomatic illnesses. This couldn’t be further from the truth. The genesis may be in the head (brain-thoughts-beliefs) but the physical effects are real. Science hasn’t quite figured out the mechanism for placebos. It’s also not clear why a placebo works for one person and not another. More on that in a bit.
My first experience with placebos was in the early 80s as a nurse at a VA hospital administering patients placebo pain pills. Most often the patients had chronic pain issues of unknown origin. Many did not get relief from the traditional pain medications – morphine, methadone, etc. Of course it was all under close physician oversight. It was interesting to observe that in perhaps a fourth or so of the cases (to the best of my recollection) the patients reported at least some relief from the placebo.
What does this have to do with running? Lots. Runners – athletes – often look for quick fixes to ailments. Then, after trying some “new revolutionary” treatment they find relief. It could be in the form of an herb, a vitamin, an organically grown food, zillions of supplements (all natural of course – don’t even get me started on the supplement industry) or it can come in the way of a “new stretch” or trigger point activated in your body by a laser beam. It never ceases to amaze me at the variety of running related ailment cures. More interesting though is how when someone “gets better” they will automatically point to some inert pill they took which has no relation to their ailment. No one will ever convince that person that it was happenstance that they improved; nor that just the time off was what cured them; nor any of the other treatments were the real “cure” ticket. Even in light of the fact that most others with the same complaint taking the same “cure” in the same dosage never improve.
We want answers. We want to be able to attribute our recovery to something. We want meaning. Even if it is unsupported – we figure we must be the exception. But it doesn’t sway us from believing in “our cure.” Likewise, I witnessed in the hospital when patients didn’t believe in the treatments or just believed that they would die in fact did pass away. This, in spite of the fact that medically they should have survived.
Research on placebos is interesting. It has been found that there are cultural differences in the effectiveness of placebos. That isn’t surprising to me since the effectiveness of a placebo is based in a belief system. Everyone’s belief system is largely influenced by our environments, upbringing and experiences.
Belief is the key ingredient. So, let’s not worry about if it is real or not. It’s like debating if God exists. If you are a believer then God exists and if you are not then God doesn’t to you. This element of belief is so powerful that it can create realities in our bodies. This is not the superficial level of believing – Pollyanna-positive-thinking-all-is-OK stuff. The only way placebos work are to have complete belief that it indeed will work. Beyond placebos, if you do not believe in the treatments you use for any ailment the odds of getting better are diminished to some degree.
One message that seems to come through is this. If you believe you will never get better; never run injury free; that no treatments exist to help your issue; you just might be right. On the other hand, if you believe you will get better and never give up that belief you just might be right. If not, at least you have something to always look forward to.
As for me, I’m coming back. I’m always coming back.