Have you ever been curious about pain, specifically, chronic or persistent pain? Do you have chronic pain? This is for you!
I was not curious. In fact, when I was a student physical therapist, I wanted nothing to do with “pain patients”. I didn’t want to touch these people with a 10 foot pole! What do you do with someone who has chronic pain?? I was pretty well convinced these folks were hopeless and beyond any earthly help. I’m a born helper (though my parents might disagree) and as a PT, I love to help people change their bodies and change their minds for the better. Unfortunately, I carried this misconception; that there was nothing for me to offer, for a long time. Three years ago I began working in a pain management program where I learned how to compassionately explain pain to a person who had been dealing as best they could for as long as they could-their whole lives-in some cases.
So, please allow me to blow your mind, compassionately, if you’re new to this pain stuff…
Pain is made by your brain.
Are you thinking I’m telling you the pain is all in your head?
Yes. Please read on.
Why then, do you experience pain in various areas of your body?
We have all kinds of different receptors in our tissues (think bone, blood, joint, muscle, fascia, gut, etc.) that respond to temperature, pressure, and chemical changes. A disruption in/to the tissue, anywhere in the body, will mechanically change or otherwise “trip” these receptors and a signal (or many signals) will travel up to the brain from sensory nerve tissue via the spinal cord. Our brains will then decide, based on context, to send a pain signal (or many) back down the chain. This is a warning system, a mechanism, that tells us we need to modify our activity or seek care of some sort.
Here’s something interesting…take a person with phantom limb pain. A person who has undergone an amputation no longer has a foot or leg, hand or arm, to cause pain. Where does the pain, or itching, or cramping, or any number of other sensations they can experience come from?? The surgeon amputated the foot, right? Yes, they did, but they didn’t amputate the foot in the brain. Perhaps you’re wondering if I’m crazy…I may be, but there’s a lot of research to back this up. You have a map of your body in your brain. This brain map is in the sensorimotor cortex . There’s a funny looking guy/gal that goes along with the sensorimotor cortex that illustrates what it’s for called a homunculus.
The homunculus has both sensory (temperature, pressure, etc.) and motor (movement) components. The end result is that the limb continues to exist in the brain and thereby a person can experience sensations in a missing limb.
We know this now, so there must be a way to change what we perceive as pain right? Yes. We have the ability to change our brains. This is called neuroplasticity. More about this in another post, stay tuned!
This is a great video by Painaustralia that helps to explain persistent pain in less than 5 minutes.
Please contact me if you’re interested in learning more about how to cope with and manage the pain you experience. Connect with the Neuro Orthopaedic Institute (noigroup.com)to learn more on your own. Be curious about your pain. There is hope.