Embodiment and chronic pain: implications for rehabilitation practice

Health Care Anal. 2009 Jun;17(2):100-9. doi: 10.1007/s10728-008-0109-5. Epub 2009 Jan 29.


Throughout the Western world people turn towards the health care system seeking help for a variety of psychosomatic/psychosocial health problems. They become "patients" and find themselves within a system of practises that conceptualizes their bodies as "objective" bodies, treats their ill health in terms of the malfunctioning machine, and compartmentalizes their lived experiences into medically interpreted symptoms and signs of underlying biological dysfunction. The aim of this article is to present an alternative way of describing ill health and rehabilitation using the philosophy of Maurice Merleau-Ponty in order to deepen our understanding of the rehabilitation process. I will explore how the experience of chronic pain ruptures the natural connection between body and world and how the rehabilitation process can be understood as the re-insertion of the body into the flow of experience, where the body "disappears" into its natural silence in order to allow the world to once again unfold. The experience of chronic pain places the painful body in focus, resulting in a diminished articulation of both self and world. Persons with illness suffer not only from the physical aspects of pain and discomfort but also from a loss of identity where one feels alienated and detached from things that used to give meaning to ones life. Rehabilitation must not only address the material (medical) body but also the diminished sense of self as well as the retreat from the world outside of the painful body.

MeSH terms

  • Chronic Disease
  • Humans
  • Pain / psychology*
  • Pain / rehabilitation*
  • Self Concept
  • Self Psychology*