Understanding Pain

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Wednesday, February 8, 2017
Understanding Pain

Pain is created in your brain. We now know that the feeling of pain is something your brain decides that you should experience, if it believes there is a problem. Even if it only senses a potential threat of damage to tissues, your brain will decide if you should feel pain. That is, you can still experience pain without tissue damage. Conversley, studies have shown that even when there is tissue damage, your brain might not generate the feeling of pain for you. This is known as the paradox of pain. It means that the pain you are feeling is not necessarily mirroring the severity or even the site of your problem, or if there is a problem at all!

At times pain can be very helpful. Our brains create the experience of pain to inform us that something is not as it should be. Some examples would be if we were over-exerting ourselves, or maintaining an awkward posture which is causing harm to the body, or needing to be careful with an injury to avoid further damage so that the body can heal it. Pain can let us know what not to do while the body deals with the issue. In this situation, the pain is constructive and informative. If we listen to our bodies, these pain experiences can be beneficial to us.

For some people, though, pain can remain even after the initial damage has healed. And for some other people, the pain can extend to other areas where there is no damage at all. The pain is not constructive or informative for these people. The pain itself has then become an issue. The brain has learnt to be in pain. What you focus on actually causes the brain to adapt (that is, it has a neural plastic effect). The brain adapting in accordance with what you focus on is clearly a good thing if you are concentrating on learning something, because it will help you to learn it. But if you are focusing on pain, this can indeed make your pain worse or more persistent or more difficult  to get rid of. Therefore, when pain is not a reliable indicator of actual tissue damage, the best thing to do is to focus on the positive things in your life. For example, what is working well, what makes you happy, or what you are grateful for. This, on its own, can help you to heal.

In my next article, as your Canberra chiropractor, I will discuss how chiropractic spinal adjustments also have a neural plastic effect on the brain.