5 Tips to use the brain to treat pain

Pain can be intimidating whether acute or chronic. Left untreated or under-treated, acute pain can become chronic. The longer it persists, the greater the subsequent impact on our lives . Chronic pain can really become a disease in its own right.

Thankfully brain scientists have been busy demystifying the roles of the brain in regards to pain. They are saying the revolution is…. retraining the brain!  Surprisingly though, this rather sexy method in treating pain is in fact the most underestimated, cheap, and underused treatment of all.

So, if you are suffering from physical and/or emotional pain and feel like you have had enough of it,  here is especially for you: the 5 cutting-edge, rocket-science tips to use your brain to treat chronic/persistent pain.

1. Pain is about protection, not damage.

Ever been advised by your physios, GP’s or specialists that there are no abnormalities seen on the scans or blood tests but you wonder why it still hurts so much?

Well, if you’re in this situation next time, first of all, have a big loud high-five with your health professional because all those worst possible diagnosis have been ruled out!

Then, have another woohoo moment as it also indicates that you have the clearance to begin rehabilitation. You will return to your favourite physical activities / sports in a blink of an eye.

However, if you are still not convinced and pain continues to be the barrier, well… it’s time to get onto the brain retraining business.

It is the brain that produces pain – 100%, no exception!

All pain is real but it is just not produced at the affected joint, muscle, bone or nerve.  In fact, there are no such thing as pain nerve endings, pain fibres, pain receptors or pain pathways.  What pain really is then? It is an output from the brain (not an input), and, it urges us to protect that body part.  Pain is just one protective mechanism – the most powerful one!

2. When you are in pain, 500 areas in the brain are in action at exactly the same time.

Under functional brain MRI scans, all of the sensory areas (hearing, smell, vision, pressure etc)  as well as the memory, fear, movement, cognition, and coordination areas activated simultaneously under a painful stimulus. This is as if each part of the brain is talking to one another. Scientists call this brain phenomena Neurotags or Neuromatrix.

Out of these multi-million neurotags, of particular interest to me, is the brain-to-immune, immune-to-brain communication.

The immune system is “a system that knows who you are (genetically and from experiences), and which will react when you are not you” (Dr. David Butler).  Did you know that the brain is now known as an immune organ? When there are multiple things in life that you are having to jiggle with, danger signals from body tissue’s receptors is made amplified to the brain (Bottom up). At the same time, the brain’s ability to dampen down the sensitivity gets inhibited (Top down) – all in order to… PROTECT you.

At our Victoria University physiotherapy clinic, the busiest time of year is 6 weeks before and during final exams. This is in line with scientific evidence that increased academic / environmental stress leads to immunological changes and developing illness.

Now we know about this incredible brain networks, next time we find ourselves in pain, wouldn’t it be worth considering and checking the status of the other 499 areas of the brain?

3. Open up the drug cabinet in your brain.

Who would not like a daily dosage of Endorphin! You may well be an addict already if you are one of those who just can’t go past one day without exercising! There are other chemicals your brain is capable of producing: like Oxytocin (aka the love hormone), Serotonin (mood stabiliser), Enkephalin (pain killers), and even Morphine! – no need to be alarmed though as your brain will never be sent to the prison 🙂

All these powerful drugs can be produced right inside your own brain, you can even help your friends and family with their production, or even better be partners in crime by treating yourselves to double dosage – all it takes is simply being present, enjoying the moment, having some fun, and feeling grateful.  Remember your drug store is open 24/7, no prescription required, guaranteed no side effects, and FREE!!!

4. How you THINK matters.  Brain cells move towards your thoughts – how cool is that?!!

We hear amazing stories of people with terminal illnesses who make through well beyond their expected lifetime. What about those who distribute infectious happy smiles and laughters around us? They are the masters of the brain retraining! Their blood steams are filled with happy neurotransmitters and hormones.

Brain scientists have proven that negative thoughts really do lead to unfavourable acute immune responses via the super gossiping Neuromatrix system. On the contrast, even a tiny weeny piece of positive thought can nourish the molecules and cells within your neuro-immuno-biology system, resulting in feeling awesome!

5. Get moving, Get exercising

We all know what RICE means: Rest, Ice, Compress, Elevate. How about MICE? If you don’t know, sorry buddy but you are out of fashion (in terms of acute injury management). In MICE, M for Movement replaces Rest.

While adequate rest in the acute stage is vital not to disturb the cells undergoing finely sophisticated healing business, more and more research in the last decade suggests that complete rest can actually delay healing process. For example, if you have sustained an ankle fracture and need to be non weight bearing for next 6 weeks in a full cast, don’t you worry how boring next 6 weeks of your life is going to be (especially when we’ve just talked about how you think matters) as there are still plenty of safe exercises you can be doing which will probably accelerate your tissue healing.

So, if you suffer from an acute sport injury or chronic non specific pain syndrome, and you want treatment options other than passive rest and medications, our competent physiotherapists at Willis Street Physiotherapy would love to meet you and help guide you through the brain retraining journey. In the meantime, remember that pain is produced by the brain to protect you.

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