Your brain adapts constantly to the input that it receives. The process by which the brain changes is called neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity is the changing of the brain by creating new neural pathways. Neuroplastic changes are occurring constantly in order for our brain to tune itself to our needs.
Unfortunately this process can get out of control in regards to pain signals that the brain is receiving leading to what is called chronic pain. Chronic pain is often defined as any pain lasting more than 12 weeks. Whereas acute pain is a normal sensation that alerts us to possible injury, chronic pain is very different. Chronic pain persists—often for months or even years.
Consider this fact: your brain sees you differently that you see yourself. The image the brain has of our body is called the Homunculus. The more sensation a part of your body has the bigger the the image the brain has of that part of the body. As can be seen from the picture on the right, its a distorted view compared to what we are used to looking at in the mirror.
With long term persistent pain our body/brain changes due to the constant pain signalling loop between the brain and the body. Your brain transforms to receive the pain signals from your body and more and more of your brain’s resources become dedicated to receiving those signals. That means that pain carrying nerves become more abundant and stronger and the brain itself creates new pathways to receive those pain signals. The end result is chronic pain and pain that is out of proportion to the state of the injury. In fact in many cases the original injury has healed and the chronic pain is now the injury.
Reversing the process
The challenge is then to switch off the chronic pain by utilising the brains neuroplasticity to return to normal. To accomplish this we need to harness the power of thoughts, images, sensations, memories, soothing emotions, movement and beliefs to help block the pain signals. By stimulating the brain with non-pain input during pain spikes to stop the pain we begin to activate the cells and their connections that have been appropriated for pain enhancement, returning them to normal function. This process is slow and difficult at first, like learning any new skill it takes time, but know that you will get better and more effective at it with practice.
For example soothing touch is one of the best ways of shifting pain back to normal levels. Gentle touch can be introduced to painful regions, above and below the area of pain if it is too sensitive directly over the site of pain, changing local brain input from pain to a sense of calming self-touch. Use touch lightly enough to not cause pain, then move in a pattern of vertical, horizontal and diagonal planes. You need to look at your pain as not dangerous, but as an opportunity to try new approaches to turn it off
Neuroplastic Tips for Stopping Chronic Pain
Other ways in which the brain / body can be stimulated during pain spikes to stop the pain include:
- Activate different parts of your brain by performing stimulating creative tasks such as : Paint or sketch a picture, cook a meal, write a story, take photos and edit them.
- Imagine the pain as a red colour, and imagine that pain changing to a soothing blue
- Touch an area with soft fabric
- Rub a smooth stone
- Wrap the area of pain in a warm towel
- Apply a cold pack and feel the pain cool down
- Take a deep breath of air, hold it for a few seconds and then slowly let it out
- Allow yourself to feel the relief of your pain letting go
- Feel your fingertips by gently rubbing your thumb against each finger
- Use light touch, enough to not cause pain, then move in a pattern of vertical, horizontal and diagonal planes
A great resource for people suffering from Chronic Pain is a book called “Transforming the brain in pain, Neuroplastic Transformation, Your brain on Pain”, by Michael H . Moskowitz and Marla D. Golden. They also provide a number of online resources which complement the book, these are available at Neuroplastix.com