Pain in the brain

I have been working on what I feel is most important information to help people who live with chronic pain. In my search for information on pain processes I discovered a wonderful blog called Better Movement by physical therapist Todd Hargrove.  What Todd has done is synthesized current pain research and findings in a way that is clear and exciting. As I read his recommendations I see how my recommendations to people are supported by the same understanding of how the brain processes pain. About 8 years ago I was told by a neurosurgeon that I wouldn’t last 10 years without surgery because the pain in my back would be so excruciating; but my pain is quite low and I go through periods that are pain free.

Picture: John Lund / Getty Images

The approaches I have taken are varied, as a dancer I believe that movement is primary to health. But at times I chose to restrict certain movements because I thought they were taxing my body. In retrospect I don’t think those restrictions (like no more roll downs) contributed to less pain or better health and they certainly restricted my ability to dance. It was an experiment, a good one because it taught me things about my body/mind.  And yes I didn’t feel pain from a roll down cause I wasn’t doing any but I began to explore what was really happening when I experienced pain. It turns out I could at times do roll downs without negative consequences. And so it turns out there was much more than mechanics causing pain.

One of the great myths of pain is that if it hurts you are re-injuring yourself. Wait, I can’t tell people to ignore their pain. Well I don’t and no one should but we can’t assume pain is caused by injury, injury can cause pain but doesn’t always. Pain can be caused by injury but it isn’t always.

Pain is in the brain. That just means that the brain decides whether to produce pain or not based on all the inputs is collects about the situation. Our central nervous system is there to decide how to best protect us and many factors are a part of the consideration. Does the brain think we are in danger? Will pain increase or decrease the danger to us? We have all heard of times when a severe injury is not accompanied by pain which allows the person to reach safety without being restricted by the pain. The physical pain will come later when the brain decides you’re safe enough and it’s time to restrict movement. Pain can be a response triggered by memory, emotions, beliefs, expectations, attention etc. Pain that is cognitive in origin is a different animal to soothe, and it needs to be soothed not ignored, just as pain from an injury must be treated not ignored. Sometimes the information that it is cognitive in origin is enough to make a difference but not always, sometimes our brain needs more information and a change in the pattern or response.

When I first began to have back pain in the 1980’s I noticed that when I was hurried I was in more pain which gave me the information that it was an opportunity to stop and relax and visualize ease and flow. But I had to really do that to ease the pain, I couldn’t just know it. My brain as the great protector wasn’t going to let up until I did something to change. I can’t just change my thoughts I have to take those thoughts into action.

If you have read this far I hope it is not because you are in a lot of pain, but if so you have my compassion and wishes for a journey of curiosity and hope to bring you more ease in your body/mind.

About karenkirsch

I am a Registered Somatic Movement Therapist and Laban Movement Analyst. I have a Masters degree in Somatic Psychology with training in Interpersonal Neurobiology, Body Mind Centering, Dance Therapy and other mind/body disciplines. My passion is to help people integrate sensate understanding into the practice of daily living and encourage gentle exploration grounded in sound anatomical and neurological principles.
This entry was posted in pain, self regulation, sensation. Bookmark the permalink.