We now believe that the brain is the root of our sense of pain.
“But if the brain controls all pain, does that mean that we can think pain away? ” ~ Paul Ingraham, Pain Science
No, but, as pain is our brain’s doing (normally it works as a danger/warning sign for bodily injury and harm), we can utilize this information to have some “influence” on our pain…
a ” leverage point”, to potentially help us learn to live with and manage a life with Chronic Pain.
“The complexity of pain makes it much harder to beat though…”
If we learn about our mind’s complicated relationship with pain, this can,
with some acquired knowledge and understanding, have a considerable impact on our relationship with and experience of pain.
A Little Pain/Science History
For most of history, and even, unfortunately, for many people today, pain was believed to be a simple, straight-forward signal system. As Rene Descartes, a French Philosopher, described it:
1. There is an injury or flesh wound.
2. The nerves then send a direct and proportionate signal to the brain of pain.
3. And the brain simply “accepts” and “believes” the signal as is.
This way of thinking about pain has become known as the pain-fiber or naïve model of pain.
What We Know Now – Helpful Information or Tips to Know About Pain
- There are no “pain nerves” but rather only nerves that detect stimulus and that the brain determines the source and “message” of these stimulus, and, we now know, even if the stimuli do not, in fact, exist in the real world.
- The brain is far from simply a port for messages from the body but rather, plays a crucial role in the process. Many factors contribute to the sensation of pain that we feel. The brain makes manifold connections to the context, location, surrounding environment, previous memories with similar environments, etc. related to an event before it sends out the pain alarm.
“Chronic pain is a witch’s brew of different factors, complex by nature (not just coincidence or bad luck).” ~ Paul Ingraham
- We know that the body/mind system works very well for situations where there is acute pain, but that often with Chronic Pain the whole process can go awry in millions of ways and get quite complicated and difficult to sort and, as we know, solve, heal and ultimately, live with.
- A sense of safety and security matter. If you feel a sense of threat, on any level, your pain can often become heightened and more severe and prolonged. That’s how fear or stress for example, can trigger a pain flare.
…the brain, has to answer a very important question: “How dangerous is this really?” In order to respond, the brain draws on every piece of credible information — previous exposure, cultural influences, knowledge, other sensory cues — the list is endless. ~ Lorimer Moseley, Oxford University
Teaching patients about modern pain biology has been shown to alter beliefs and attitudes about pain and to increased pain thresholds. This line of questioning and manner of thinking about pain helps address the brain’s perception of threat (and the accompanying increase in pain), giving patient’s a greater role in managing their pain.
It’s complicated- for one, our perceptions and two, our inferences, all play intertwined and myriad roles in our minds and hence in our experience of pain.
Merely understanding pain is a long way from changing one’s experience of pain although it does offer us, thankfully, a place to start.