I had the pleasure of attending the “Explain Pain” course run by Tim Cocks and the NOI group recently. For someone who works in the field, and knows a bit about the subject, it was mind-blowing to see how much has been added recently in the field of pain neuroscience, with new research continuing to add to the wealth of knowledge in what is increasingly a massive public health issue, costly to both society and the individual in so many ways.
The conceptual change for me was, rather than picturing the nervous system as an advanced technology system, with a big super-computer at the centre, it’s more accurate to imagine it as a galaxy of interconnected systems, or an entire ecosystem.
The machine analogy is just way too simple.
Systems in your body continually communicate and adapt based on the demands placed upon them. Your brain, gut, glands, spinal cord, little finger are talking all the time. And you don’t even know. That’s the difference between “brain” and “mind”. The brain is a thing, your mind is you. It extends out into your world, the people, places, events in your life exist in your mind, in you the person. And so does pain. Pain is an output, experienced by the person, as a result of the brain deciding that a course of action is necessary for protection.
Let’s look at the journey to pain. Say you stand on a rock.
Pressure activates peripheral nerves, a danger signal travels north, your immune system fires up to defend you, your spinal cord is a filter and mediator, your brain interprets the signal and based on the threat, the context, your prior experience, your personal beliefs and emotions, responds as it thinks appropriate and creates pain as an output. Pain is then experienced by the person.
Peripheral chemicals continue to sensitise those receptors, reminding you standing on rocks isn’t much fun. Your brain lodges the experience in the memory, to draw on in the future if needed.
At that is just standing on a frigging rock!!!!!
Imagine what happens when you break your leg!!!
Or imagine what happens when you have had back pain for 3 months, you’ve had a scan that says all these big words that sound bad. You’ve been told you should have surgery, but you remember your uncle had back surgery and was never the same. You can’t afford 6 weeks off work, but at the same time it’s getting worse. The drugs don’t work, in fact you’re taking more as they seem to be useless.
That story isn’t even that uncommon, or bad compared to some.
The moral of the story. Gain knowledge, understand your own personal NeuroImmuniverse, how it works and what is happening to you.
Standing on rocks suck. But being in pain all the time is torture.
There are ways of treating it. Not managing it, or learning to live with it. Treating it.
And while it can sometimes sound like we are talking about feelings and saying it’s in your head, that is not it at all. We are not giving up talking about this stuff, we are going were the evidence takes us.
This is the science of pain, and the great thing about science is it’s true whether you believe it or not.
But we deal with humans, not machines. Thoughts, beliefs, emotions matter, because they change the NeuroImmuniverse.
All pain is real. All pain can be explained. If we explain better, we can change it.
Let us know if you or someone you know needs help. Let us know if you or they have given up. Let us know if they say “there’s nothing that can be done”. Let us know if you’ve stopped doing what you love because it hurts.
Until next time