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Can burn pain be emotional?

Sheri Van Dijk
Psychiatry

I think that any pain often has an emotional component, especially when it's chronic. One thing that tends to increase our emotions about our pain, however, is when we fight it. As a sufferer of chronic pain from a car accident years ago, I know that when I get caught up in future- or past-thinking about the pain (e.g. "is it ever going to end, it's been going on so long") or non-accepting thoughts about the pain (e.g. "why me? it's not fair, it shouldn't have happened"), my pain becomes worse. So acceptance and mindfulness are very helpful in dealing with chronic pain.

But then there's also the trauma aspect of pain, especially related to the pain of a burn. Whether you were burned in a fire or by a boiling pot of water, the more severe the burn the more severe the emotional consequences. So therapy can be very helpful to relieve symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

I once worked with a young woman who had been burned badly over most of her body when the tent she was sleeping in caught fire. We worked together for a number of months using mindfulness and exposure therapy to get her to the point that she could use her oven again, and was even able to light a candle and stand near a campfire. It takes time, but there is a way through this emotional pain.

Burn pain generally refers to physical pain - the hurt caused by the tissue damage as a result of a burn. However, burns can cause a great deal of emotional pain as well, particularly in serious third-degree burns. Because they can cause scarring and are slow to heal, depression can be common.

Stuart A. Linder, MD
Plastic Surgery
Burn pain can definitely be emotional. The visibility of a severe burn can lead to psychological distress and depression. Many patients with large area burns present with mental depression requiring the emotional support and psychological treatment. 

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.