Are you struggling with persistent pain?
If yes, you’re probably already doing everything you can from a medical point of view. You may have seen doctors or specialists, your possibly taking medication and you may have even considered surgery. By now you’re probably frustrated going around in circles, feeling helpless and no closer to finding a solution.
But Why Is It So Hard to Find a Solution to Chronic Pain?
The traditional medical model tends to explore our specific symptoms in isolation and doesn’t look at us as a whole person. Instead…. It’s time for us to take a step back and look at the body as a whole. In most cases when pain has persisted for more than 3 months, it’s not just a structural issue. Your brain is likely sending incorrect pain signals to your body.
This condition is referred to by a few names including neuroplastic pain, Tension Myositis Syndrome (TMS) or mind-body condition.
Modern pain science and research have come a long way in the past decade and clearly show the direct link between pain and the brain.
In this article, I will share with you the latest science and research so that you can learn why for many people the brain is misfiring signals to the body causing persistent and often excruciating pain. But most importantly you will discover if you can address your specific symptoms using the mind-body approach to healing so that you can get back to enjoying your life just like before.
Pain Science 101: Understanding Pain
Most people have pain and then heal as expected but for others, the pain persists sometimes for years.
If you’ve been suffering from symptoms on and off for more than 3 months then this would be considered chronic pain.
The reason we have pain is to protect us from something. For example, if we touch a hot stove then nerve signals would send a message of pain to the brain so that we pull away. Pain is very useful.
To describe how pain works, I will use cycling as an example. Once we learn to ride a bike we never forget. This is because a neural pathway is established that gets stronger the more we do it. Each time we jump on a bike it’s easier than the time before because the neural pathway gets stronger.
Pain acts in the same way. When we experience pain, a neural pathway is established. The longer we feel the pain the stronger the pathway becomes. Even once the injury has healed we can still feel the pain because the pain has now become a learned response. In other words, our brains are misfiring signals of pain to the body.
But Why Does This Happen To Some People And Not Others?
This is down to how effectively our nervous system is working. Our nervous systems activate and send pain signals when there is danger whether this is physical or emotional and turn off when the danger has passed.
But sometimes our brains get it wrong. They can perceive something as being a threat even when it’s not really a threat. This is called a prediction error. When our brain gets a prediction error it sends signals to make us stay in high alert. This is known as the fight or flight response. Whilst our nervous system continues to think we are in danger we will continue to get pain and over time the pain can get worse.
There are three main reasons why our brains may make the prediction error.
1 – Fear pain itself
2 – Personality types
3 – Past experiences
How Your Fear of Pain May Be Contributing To Your Pain
Just because you see something on an MRI scan doesn’t necessarily mean this is what is causing pain. In several studies, they have proven that if you take a group of people experiencing no back pain more than half of them would show some kind of abnormality on their scan. The number of abnormalities we see on MRI scans of people with no pain also increases with age. This shows that degeneration of the spine is just a natural sign of aging. But once we have seen an MRI scan our brains interpret this as scary and we quickly find ourselves in the pain-fear cycle.
There is also no link between the amount of pain someone is experiencing and structural damage. In a famous example, a construction worker had a nail go through his foot. He was screaming in pain until they removed the boot and found that the nail had gone right between his toes. He had very real pain because his brain was sending pain signals to protect him from the pain based on the information his brain had.
So far we’ve talked mostly about musculoskeletal issues but what about neurological conditions such as migraines or fibromyalgia?
We now know from modern pain science that neural pathways that cause pain can be learnt. This also means that pain can be unlearnt. Once we understand how pain works and we can get ourselves out of the pain-fear cycle we can create new non-pain pathways. So therefore neurological conditions can be addressed using the same approach because the pain was created in the first place by nerves.
How Your Personality May Be Contributing To Your Pain
Some personality traits put undue pressure on ourselves, which leads to self-induced stress. Our brain may perceive a prediction error that our personality is putting us in danger and activate the nervous system’s fight-or-flight response. If you have any of the following personality traits your chronic pain is more likely to be due to neuroplastic pain.
- Highly empathetic
- High expectations of self
- Need to be in control
- Low self-esteem
- Need to be liked
- Feeling anxious
- Need to be helpful
- Overly responsible
How Past Events May Be Contributing To Your Pain
The ACEs study has shown a direct correlation between childhood trauma and chronic pain in adults. If you experienced any difficult situations as a child, your nervous system would have been working hard to protect you. It will have learnt which things are dangerous and prepared you with the fight or flight response. However, if these events continued over time, your nervous system switch would have become exhausted, leaving you in a constant state of stress. This makes it difficult to recognize as an adult when you’re feeling stressed because it’s your new normal.
If you’ve experienced any of the following events, they could be contributing to your pain because your brain may still be protecting you from these events even though they happened in the past.
- Physical, emotional, or sexual abuse
- Divorce or separation of parents
- Incarceration of a family member
- Witness or experience physical or emotional abuse?
- Have anyone in your household depressed or mentally ill?
- Live with anyone that had a drink or drug problem?
- Often feel you were not loved?
You don’t have to have experienced trauma to have chronic pain but it’s just more evidence that your condition could be neuroplastic pain.
This article has taught you that not all pain is structural and that pain pathways can be learned and unlearned. You have also been able to gain evidence that your pain could be due to your brain’s misfiring signals around the body. Firstly because of the fear of the pain itself, your personality type and lastly because of past life events.
How Do I Get Rid of My Pain?
The good news is that there is a solution that people all around the world have already used to heal their pain. The bad news is that it is unlikely that you will hear this from your physician. Why? Because it takes approximately 20 years from when medical science and research is completed to when this knowledge gets to the front line and they teach this at medical school.
Here Are Four Things You Can Do To Address Your Pain
1 – You must first rule out life-threatening conditions, Infection, cancer and auto-immune conditions. Your doctor can help advise on this. Then educate yourself on neuroplastic pain and notice if and when you are in the pain fear cycle. There is a free self-assessment video that may help you on my website – CLICK HERE
2 – Empower yourself to use your personality to feel strong rather than to cause stress. What personality traits do you have and how can you find ways to use your personality differently? Using a personality assessment such as Gallup Clifton Strengths can help with this. And working with a professional coach can help you find strategies.
3 – Explore how past events could be contributing to your pain. List what events you experienced in your past and recognize how this could be contributing to your pain. Use methods such as journalling or working with a professional to process past emotions.
4 – Empower yourself to find ways to calm your nervous system throughout your day using techniques such as meditation, mindfulness, gratitude, yoga, exercise and slow breathing.
I hope that one-day pain science and research will become mainstream and taught in all schools but for now, I hope this article has helped you to understand why you may have chronic pain and a few things you can do to get on the right path to healing.
After healing from a decade of lower back pain, I created the unique freedom from pain healing system which takes you through all four of these stages. I’ve successfully used it to help clients just like you heal and get back to doing the activities they love.
If you would like to take the full self-assessment to see how you can address your pain through the mindbody approach, it’s available here. If you believe this approach to healing could work for you please contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org