Pain and The Brain

So many of us have unexplained pain or chronic pain that ends up increasingly dictating  the way we live. There seems to be a misconception that psychosomatic pain and illness, somehow means that it is imagined and not real. This is not the case at all, the pain is as real as any pain, but it is influenced by psychological stress and pain. Where in your body is your anger, sadness, the weight of responsibility you might carry held?

Lorimer Moseley’s video below about the link between pain and the brain is brilliant for anyone wanting to gain a deeper understanding into their pain.

He speaks of pain being all about protection. Anything suggesting we are in danger, including stress and emotional pain, increases pain. Pain is in the brain, it’s not the level of tissue damage. The level of risk is assessed and the brain sends pain signals as this protects us by making us stop whatever we are doing, as pain is as you know unpleasant. He gives an example of how if you pinch your own finger it hurts more when a friend does it, and even more when its a stranger. This is purely based on the brain’s assessment of risk.

So you can have excruciating back pain, where you are bent over or unable to move in pain, but no tissue damage. This can feel the same as someone who does have tissue damage. Those that have life threatening damage often are pain free – think about that. This is because you will only feel pain once you are in safety again, as pain is all about protection you would not survive if you had your arm blown off and you stopped in pain to attend to it. The brain has a very complex pain and risk system.

Another interesting piece of research is how if you see your medical report saying ‘degenerative spine’ you will be in more pain, than if it is explained to you that degenerative merely means age appropriate changes. This is because with the former the brain says ‘danger’.

The brain also attributes meaning and therefore the same stimulus will hurt more with a red light flashed at the same time than a blue light. This is because in many countries we place the meaning of danger with red and blue with calm.

As you can see the pain system learns almost too well and the pain system can become over-protective so that you can be doing very little and have a flare up. People then tend to avoid all pain-associated activities or try to beat it. Both these options make you more and more disabled by pain and the range of what sets its off becomes broader and less predictable and manageable. Soon you have given up much of what you loved and your life seems less and less yours. This is because it’s the same brain producing pain whatever option you take, you cannot avoid or beat pain. There is a third option however – teaching and training your over-protective brain to become less reactive. It is possible to bring the system into being appropriately protective once again.

  1. Rethink pain – pain in the body’s protector, so EVERYTHING matters and is relevant (things do, hear, see, what friends tell you, medical professionals tell you, what you feel)
  2. Pain can become part of who you are and your identity – i’ve got danger in me (DIM), rather than safety (SIMS)
  3. The challenge that anyone has with persistent pain (pain not following expected trajectory) needs to work out what your DIMS and SIMS are. They require hard work to find them. They live within the bio-social model. In this you have the bio which is the true make up and state of body, the psycho (moods, fears, thoughts, belief, knowledge) and socio (community, culture, relationships, access to care). Pain sits in the middle of all of these. All of these apply to everyone, pain sits in the intersection, if you are human! It is very easy to think ‘my pain is different, it’s all bio”. The SIMS and DIMS can be found it all of these. You can teach the pain system to be less protective and rethink pain, but understanding takes a lot of work. Understanding is the first way forward out of pain. Pain is clearly in your body, but 100% it is produced in your brain, so understanding matters greatly.
  4. Then need to plan how you go about new learning, then need patience and persistence as its a learnt and adaptive mechanism so will be quite a journey to shift it.
  5. Active aspects are essential and protects you against many other problems that are increased with persistent pain. Even when things are a bit painful with an over-protective system, that is still better than passive aspects and having things done to you. Do not simply avoid movement, the risk of inactivity is much greater than activity. Find and become super aware of your safe baseline, your flare up line and at some points this may be very easily triggered. Then from this apply the rule – Always do more today than yesterday, but not much more take it slowly. This does not have to be aerobic activity, walking is the best, but you can even get benefit from imagining movement. Even the brain sending movement commands has significant effects. It’s all about finding balance and experimenting and become really conscious and attuned to your baseline and body.
  6. Support – a good coach and support groups with pain experts by experience. Interactions with others are essential, especially with shared experiences.
  7. Life can be better, but not with out time and work. Understand your particular pain meter, the triggers, the meanings, the functions and that is the start.

I really recommend the video below:

Some other useful websites and links:






Simple sugars can be inflammatory of pain, dairy can too for some people. There might be certain things that you notice are particularly bad for you.


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