Chronic Pain and Our Brain

Have you ever wondered what happens to the brain when we are in pain? Maybe you threw out your back and are laid up on the couch in agony.  Your Central Nervous System is in overdrive as it sends pain signals to the brain, saying “Pain! Pain! Pain!” Automatically your bodies adjust to avoid the pain.  Then, perhaps, in a couple days the pain subsides and we begin to have relief OR, if you are not so lucky, it continues to last for months or years!

There are 2 types of pain: acute, which is a rapid onset of pain and chronic which could have been brought on acutely and then persists for up to 3 months.  It is within those 3 months the pain should be begin to subside. If it does not, you have either one of two issues:

  1. The source of the stress that caused the pain in the first place has not been addressed, OR
  2. Your body has healed but you brain is still firing pain signals.

Think of it this way: Have you ever gone roller or ice skating and when you took your skates off after an hour or so and began walking again, you still felt like you were skating?  Your brain adapted to what the physical body was experiencing therefore created new signals in the brain to adjust to it’s environment.  But when you took the skates off, the brain hadn’t caught up yet to what the body was actually doing, which was walking and not skating.  It’s kind of like an echo.

This is what happens when chronic pain lasts longer than 3 months without proof of re-injury.  When exposed to pain for long periods of time the brain adapts into pain-mode even after the source of the pain has been healed!  It’s almost like your brain has this echo or a loop in the brain pattern that hasn’t yet readjusted.

If you have been in chronic pain for longer than 3 months, ask yourself the following:

  • I think about my pain during most of my waking hours or even wake up several times in the night.
  • I identify as a person in pain.
  • I talk about my pain a lot to others.
  • I have experienced a lot of emotional stress in my life.
  • Others identify me as “that guy/girl in (back, etc.) pain.”
  • I am depressed.
  • The MD says I should no longer be having pain because the source of the pain has healed and I have taken all the steps necessary to heal physically, yet I am still in pain.
  • I am dependent on medications to remain pain-free OR are the medications not working as well as they used to.
  • I am experiencing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder around the pain or the activity that caused the pain.
  • I have tried many modalities to relieve my pain, i.e.: medication, massage, exercise, chiropractic adjustments, decompression therapy, dry needling, acupuncture, physical therapy, meditation, Reiki, etc. to no avail.

If you have answered “yes” to one or all of these, it may be worth it to seek out a professional to address the brain portion of the pain.  This could be a counselor, a psychologist, or even a hypnotist!

Physical healing isn’t the only portion that is necessary to finding pain relief!  I implore you to seek other ways to help you to re-think your pain!


References: “Forever Painless” Miranda Esmonde-White

“The Pain-Free Program” Anthony B. Carey, M.A., C.S.C.S.

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