PAIN IS IN THE BRAIN
A staggering 100 million people in the USA suffer with chronic pain, a higher number than those diagnosed with cancer, diabetes and heart disease. Chronic pain patients suffer because they feel like they are not believed by medical professionals especially when many test results are negative, the medications don’t make a significant difference and their doctors don’t know what else to do.
Medications or even surgical procedures alone may fail in treating chronic pain as retraining pain requires a multifaceted approach to achieve results.
Recent research reveals that Pain is in the Brain. The faulty processing of danger signals by the brain and it’s decreased ability to modulate or manage the signals received from nerves is the reason for persistent pain. Having a variety of solutions that the patient implements concurrently may reap the best results.
( Visual infographic explaining chronic pain from behance.com)
Pain perception in a healthy body is good. It prevents us from fully burning our fingers on the stove, stepping on a nail, etc. The way pain perception works is that the receptors in our skin/body send danger signals through nerves to the spinal cord which then sends information to the brain where the pain is “perceived.” The brain instantaneously interprets the signals as either safe or dangerous depending on your past experiences.
BRAIN CONTROLS PAIN
The brain has areas that are dedicated to our awareness of pain and areas that determine our “experience” of pain. The healthy brain has flexible pathways and neurotransmitters that can “down modulate” or stop the danger signals. The neurotransmitters are the “happy chemicals” that our bodies naturally produce, (e.g. serotonin, endorphin & enkephalin). They actually BLOCK pain/danger signals to the brain. “We have a drug cabinet in the brain that’s 18 to 33 times stronger than morphine” says David Butler, PT, GDAMT, M.SPP.SC (1). There are a number of ways to increase production of neurotransmitters.
CIRCUITS BUILT IN YOUTH BECOME THE SUPERHIGHWAYS OF YOUR BRAIN
A recent study of chronic pain patients found 90% reported early childhood rejection by a primary caretaker, an unmet need for closeness and psychological interpersonal trauma (2). Feelings of rejection impairs the body’s ability to lower or “down modulate” and leads to hypersensitivity to pain.
These patients also reported difficulty in expressing emotion as they did not trust the people who took care of them. Science shows that interpersonal psychological distress and pain share the same neurotransmitters, genetic and immune markers. As babies, we are initially consumed by bodily distress then, as we grow, we feel safe and trusting and we develop a higher order of emotional expression and regulation. Over time, these pathways in the brain become like superhighways so when chronic pain patients experience negative interpersonal trauma, sensitivity to pain is heightened too.
BRAIN RETRAIN PROGRAM
Find your team of health professionals who can partner with you on your pain retraining program:
- EDUCATE yourself on the recent science of pain (www.retrainpain.org)
- EXERCISE to boost the happy chemicals in the brain, improve your body’s ability to produce anti-inflammatory cells, increase nerve growth factor, stimulate the cerebellum and cortex of the brain which prevents pain signals from being received, move the muscle and fascial tissue. Exercises can include any cardiovascular activity like 30 minutes of brisk walking along with a stretching, yoga, Pilates program – find what makes you feel good and “Just Do It”.
- BREATHE and MEDITATE – do 5 minutes of deep slow breaths 1x a day to physiologically quiet and calm the nervous system, Follow this by saying some positive Affirmations that help you feel good.
- MANUAL THERAPY by either a physical therapist or any body worker who helps you feel relaxed or energized. Myofascial release, massage, and joint mobilization therapies restore motion and allow normal function. It releases trapped nerves that travel through tight muscles and fascia and helps your body to move freely
- NUTRITION – consult a nutritionist to find the best low glycemic (lowers body inflammation), high Omega 3 diet, adequate protein intake to synthesize neurotransmitters and repair muscle. Drink half your body weight in ounces of water for efficient metabolism and to turn off histamine which reduces inflammation and pain
- TALK – whether individual, group therapy or via forums, research shows that talking about your situation helps you feel less isolated and can create more positive superhighways in your brain while you journey to healing
- Treating Pain Using the Brain – David Butler, PT, GDAMT, M.SPP.SC – YouTube
- Psychiatric Diagnosis and Treatment of Somatizing Neuropsychiatric Disorders By Daniel T. Willliams, MD and Alla Landa, PhD)
- Body in Mind – the role of the brain in chronic pain by Prof. Lorimer Mosley – You Tube