Brain vs. Pain: The Ultimate Battle

By Isa Herrera, MSPT

As human beings, we are constantly evolving and progressing. The magnificent leaps we have taken scientifically continue to show that as a species we strive not only to grow, but also to understand our progression every step of the way. Every element of the human experience has at one time or another been placed on the chopping block. Pain is no exception. With a well- deserved spotlight finally cast on one of the most primal human experiences, pain has become a hot topic of discussion between Western and Eastern practitioners that are interested in ways of providing the most effective pain-management options.

Why Do People Want to Talk about Pain?
Pain is complex. It is multifaceted and beautifully orchestrated. It is deeply layered and connected to the most subconscious parts of your brain. In fact, pain is so intricately tied to your brain and nervous system that it is capable of producing the most incredible illusions known to man. We are learning that the sensation of pain can be triggered simply by visual cues and memories, even when the body is not in any real or present danger.

To put it simply, your brain can manifest the sensation of pain just by thinking about it.

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What Does the Brain Have to Do with Pain?
One of the main reasons pain signals are created by the brain is to warn you that your body is in danger, which is quite helpful when it comes to basic human survival. Your brain is constantly evaluating your surroundings and taking into account everything it sees (or thinks it sees), hears, smells, and senses. In the event that you are harmed or wounded, your neurons instantly connect these elements to your experience and that memory is stored in your subconscious. Once those elements are seen as possible dangerous elements, your brain can become sensitized to their presence, sending off pain signals when no danger actually occurs. According to experts, pain is not about what is actually happening, it’s about what your brain thinks is happening. Your mind is literally playing tricks on you.

This does not mean that what you’re feeling is not real. Pain is 100% real. There are countless examples of people who experience excruciating pain on body parts, scars and even phantom limbs years after the wounded tissue has fully healed or is no longer present. The important thing to remember is that the pain is oftentimes not a sign of any actual damage to your body tissue. In fact, tissue damage does not need to be present at all for you to experience pain.

Lorimer Moseley Explains the Brain vs. Pain Connection with a Great Story at a Recent Tedx Talk

Why Am I Choosing to Feel Pain?
Technically you are not making a conscious choice to feel pain; your neurons are subconsciously making that choice for you.

In some instances you are feeling pain as a form of warning or protection against danger, whether it’s there or not. At other points you may feel pain as a way to distract you from the stresses, worries or elements of unhappiness in your life. Feeding into the pain can further aggravate the sensation when one thinks of a situation as catastrophic or feels as though the body is more fragile because of an injury. What is occurring is that your neurons are firing together and if they are all firing in a way that makes your brain believe that you can easily break, you will receive constant signals “protecting” you when it’s not necessary. Over time the neurons become increasingly sensitized and less precise, activating regularly which causes chronic pain. The longer you experience pain, the better your body becomes at producing it which often sends patients into a whirlwind of discomfort, uncertainty, and hopelessness.

What Can You Do About It?
The great news is that we have neuroplasticity on our side, which is what allows us to make lasting changes in the way we perceive what we are experiencing. The brain is the most trainable thing we have, which means that with dedication, guidance and a rosy outlook you can break free of the vicious cycle that is causing you chronic pain. (And you can do it without the use of harmful prescription drugs.) Together we can retrain your brain to achieve full precision so you are not receiving unnecessary pain signals on a regular basis. Through the regular implementation of stretching, gentle exercises, and good nutrition we can achieve what prescriptions can’t, which is a successful long-term option for managing and even doing completely away with chronic pain.

Questions to Ask Yourself If You Are in Pain:
– What in my life, thoughts, beliefs, behaviors, diet, relationship, etc., implies a threat to body tissue (or danger)?

– What in my life, thoughts, beliefs, behaviors, diet, relationship, etc., implies safety?

– Am I ready to put an end to pain for good?

Once you take control of your brain, you can begin the process of putting an end to pain.



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