Ian Cleary

Time to get curious about the Brain

November 29, 2016IanChronic Pain/ Fibromyalgia, In the News & Research, NeuroplasticityComments Off on Time to get curious about the Brain

I’ve just returned from giving a ‘Neurobiology of Pain’ lecture in London.

It is such an exciting topic because it impacts every person on the planet & the implications are huge for people suffering with chronic pain.

The challenge is this – What most people think about pain is no longer in line with modern science. 

The opportunity is this – By understanding pain you are more likely to do what’s required to treat it and not get stuck in a life of merely managing it (or the endless failed treatments).

But this is not just about pain. This is about beginning to understand the brain’s role in health – in immune function, in endocrine function, in fatigue, in physical movement, in digestion – in living a healthy life.

So if you are curious – read on.


ALL pain is in the brain. It doesn’t matter how long its been going, how it started, what it feels like, where it is, what the scans say or even how much blood there is. ALL pain is in the brain. 100% of the time.

If you are wondering right now if that actually applies to YOUR pain. The answer is yes. ALL pain is in the brain. No Brain – No Pain.

People often talk about trying everything without getting anywhere. Or perhaps treatments have work for a while but then things slip back to how they were. Other approaches work a little bit when they worked perfectly well for others. Sound familiar?

Maybe it’s time to approach this from a radically different view point and find the missing piece? The Brain and neuroplasticity.

It’s easy to get insulted when you hear statements like “All pain is in the brain” because it sounds a lot like – It’s all in your head / you’re making it up. But that is not the case at all. In fact if someone had a broken leg with an exposed bone we would still say that the pain is in the brain.

Modern pain theory certainly stretches us because we all grew up thinking pain is in the body and it is a sign of damage. Now we are being told PAIN is in the brain and it’s the brain’s assessment of threat. So you can have pain without tissue damage and tissue damage without pain.

So it is worth pondering that concept. Pain is the brain’s assessment of threat not it’s assessment of tissue damage. How your brain assesses threat is unique to you. It is a judgement call based on messages coming from the body but also information stored inside your brain – all of your past experiences, your traumas, your thoughts, your beliefs, your mood, your expectations.

The great opportunity here is that our brain is our most flexible and trainable organ we have.

Modern pain theory opens up exciting opportunities but it does take a willingness to let go of the old pain model. But was that model working for you anyway?

Pain (and fatigue) are part of our brain’s protective responses. They are meant to come on at appropriate times to keep us safe. These responses get us to slow down (fatigue) and/or pay attention (pain) but those responses – those messages in the brain –  can start to mis-fire and in time get ‘stuck on’. This is known as the dark side of NEUROPLASTICITY.

With repetition the pain and fatigue messages create changes in the brain. This is why after 3 months of pain and fatigue, regardless of the original issue, neural-plastic change has taken place and it gets the label ‘Chronic’. Chronic does not mean permanent though. It just means that it is going for longer than would be expected as a protective response. So the focus needs to shift to retraining the brain.

If you are new to the concept of NEUROPLASTICITY I would encourage you to get curious.


Not suffering from PAIN or Fatigue but still interested?

I work with a wide range of conditions including GAD, SAD, FM, PTSD, IBS, PVFS, PBS, POTS, IS, EHS, CLBP, PLTS, MCS, CRPS, ME, CFS, PVFS, MS. (I would be a whiz at scrabble if they allowed acronyms).

So it’s not just about pain and fatigue. The Lightning Process looks at how normal & healthy responses (like pain and fatigue) can become automatic and therefore inappropriate with repetitive activation and the impact this has on health. We look at how we can pro-actively influence our responses by looking at how the body and brain interact.

A great example is fear. Like pain, without it we would be dead. It is a protective response to keep us safe. But what would happen if that response became automatic and turned on too often? Simply ask someone with anxiety for the answer.

So having a neuroplastic or a neurological ‘retraining’ perspective allows us to look more pro-actively at responses like stress, anxiety, depression, perfectionism, guilt.  Can we retrain ourself to respond more appropriately to a given situation rather than automatically ( i.e. historically)?

The downside of this approach is that you can’t rely on others to fix your brain. You alone are in charge and so it’s up to you. The upside of this approach is you don’t have to rely on others. YOU ARE IN CHARGE and finally your health is in your hands. If that feels like something you are chasing then make contact today.


+61 (0)450736082

PO Box 481
Eumundi, Qld, 4562.