What is Pain?
Pain is a construction of the brain to help us deal with threat, either real or perceived, via a change in behavior. It is a multiple system output constructed by an individual specific pain neurosignature. This neurosignature is constructed whenever the brain concludes that the body tissues are in danger and action is required. Pain is allocated an anatomical reference in the virtual body. Sometimes the systems involved in producing the pain remain switched on even after tissues have healed. This causes pain to persist. Pain experiences are different for each individual due to different distributed maps in the brain.
Misconceptions about Chronic Pain.
- Pain always equals harm.
- The amount of tissue damage equals the amount of pain.
- Pain is an input from tissues (It is actually an output from the brain).
- Time heals all wounds.
Anatomy and Pain
Alarm messages from the tissues are set off by inputs to receptors in nerve endings. Receptors respond to inputs like stretch or pressure, chemicals and temperature. These messages then travel to the spinal cord and are relayed to the brain. The brain makes a judgement on how threatening the situation is. A pain experience will light up many different areas in the brain - this is called the pain neuromatrix. Areras of the brain involved in the pain neuromatrix have functions other than pain. When stimulated, the other areas of the brain involved in the neuromatrix can trigger pain without the presence of tissue damage. Novel movements refresh your brain and its ability to produce its own pain killing chemicals which are more potent then medications.
- My pain will never go away
- I’ll never get better
- I’ll just push through the pain
- No pain, No gain
Thoughts are nerve impulses too, and can set off a pain experience just like a message from a sore muscle. Know pain, know gain is a more helpful thought.
- 116 Million Americans experience chronic pain
- 70-80% of chronic pain can be effectively treated with a proactive multidisciplinary team
- Early intervention is important for success
Chronic Pain Contributing Factors
- Lack of knowledge about pain, leading to negative emmotions.
- Overactive alarm system.
- Sensitized nerves may generate spontaneous signals.
- Stress, anxiety, uncertainty, conflict, loss of control and lack of information can smudge your brain’s representation of your body, maintain inflammation, increase pain and chemicals that sensitize nerves.
- Fear of movement.
- Withdrawal from social interactions.
- Preoccupation with pain rather than function.
- Anger & frustration.
- Poor copping skills.
- Poor movement strategies.
- Poor sleep patterns.
What Can I Do?
- Seek knowledge about pain from a variety of sources.
- Ask questions.
- Understand how language can influence pain.
- Become aware of how society influences pain.
- Seek to understand the origin of your perception of the problem and what may be causing it.
- Determine how relevant educational messages are to your way of thinking.
- Understand the concept of ‘sore but safe'. After injury the body’s new alarm system kicks in before new tissue tolerance fails.
- Stay physically active.
- Perform activities in different contexts and environments.
- Access the drug cabinet in the brain and reduce drug dependency.
- Find your baseline, pace your exercises, don’t boom and bust or descend into chronicity.
- Visualization, relaxation and breathing exercises.
- Good sleep habits.
Attitudes and Beliefs
- Contemplate the role of the brain in pain.
- Commitment to treatment plans and motivation to change.
- Be prepared to challenge current thoughts, ideas and approaches to pain and health conditions.
- Assess the importance of change to you as well as your readiness and ability to change.
- Identify barriers to making changes.
- Develop strategies to cope with challenges.
- Maintain social interaction and relationships with social support.
- Don’t stress over flare ups – ups and downs are normal.
- Healthy lifestyle – diet, alcohol in moderation, quit/reduce smoking.
- Look for positive aspects of work and home environments.
- Have patience – change can take time.
- Have confidence in your ability.
- Be prepared to make sacrifices.
How Long Will It Take to Get Better?
- Chronic pain problems are complex.
- Multiple contributing factors require multiple strategies.
- Difficulty to predict time frames, but can be successfully treated.
- The brain changes with every thought, every word and every activity.