Where is pain?
I recently read an article about fibromyalgia that read “Pain is the body’s way of alerting your brain that there is a problem”.
This fundamentally misunderstands modern pain science and that misunderstanding can get in the way of people beating many chronic pain conditions.
Pain is not your BODY’S way of alerting your brain there is a problem. Pain is your BRAIN’S way of alerting YOU there is a problem. You may want to re-read that a few times as it is such a critical point.
This applies to all pain – acute, chronic, central, peripheral, somatic, visceral, neuropathic, idiopathic, inflammatory, shooting, stabbing, throbbing, piercing, burning, zapping, pain with blood, pain with broken bits – pain.
The brain takes into account what is going on the body BUT also takes into account your surroundings all your prior learnings (experiences & beliefs) to assess the nature of the threat. The brain turns on pain if it perceives the level of threat is sufficient to get our attention.
That is the purpose of pain – to get our attention.
So Pain is the Brain’s way of alerting you there is a problem. Pain doesn’t travel from the body to the brain. Information travels to the brain via our nervous system and the brain assesses this to decide if pain is useful.
Why is this rethinking of pain important?
It is great news for those in ongoing pain conditions, because the brain is our most flexible and trainable organ. Neuroplasticity shows that we can retrain the brain to respond differently. The scientist who won the nobel prize for Neuroplasticity was working on how the nervous system can be trained to be hyper-sensitive to touch (like is present with Fibromyalgia) and how it can be reversed.
So we now understand that the brain can continue to turn on pain long after an injury has healed or when there is no actual threat. Pain, the brain’s most powerful protective mechanism, can be over-protective.
So for those in chronic pain conditions shifting your treatment focus away from the area that hurts and onto the brain and the sensitivity of the nervous system opens up new treatment options when all else has failed.
It’s exciting times but it does require a shift in thinking around pain – away from a body response to injury to a BRAIN response to perceived threat.