explaining the new pain paradigm
Pain is a danger signal, and all pain originates in the brain. Its job is a very important one, helping us to detect danger to the body and seek help in the form of treatment or rest. But like those pesky sensitive hotel room fire alarms that go off when you boil the kettle, your own brain may also be misreading the situation and perceiving threat where there really is none. This is known as neuroplastic pain. Sometimes pain practitioners give it the diagnostic label 'central sensitisation', but this often comes with a suggestion that it can only be managed, not changed. This is far from the truth.
Watch the video below to learn more about neural pathways and their relationship to pain.
the key to unlearning neuroplastic pain
Ongoing pain signals and other symptoms, in the absence of genuine injury or tissue pathology, springs from what we would call a 'prediction error' in the brain. Practitioners working with the new pain science and mindbody medicine label this in various ways. You may come across terms such as TMS (tension myositis syndrome), Mindbody Syndrome, PPD (psychophysiologic disorder) or neuroplastic pain. Chronic back pain, neck pain, repetitive strain injury, headaches, fibromyalgia, sciatica, nerve pain, joint pain and other inflammatory symptoms are often maintained by neuroplastic processes.
Whatever the label, the understanding is that in many chronic conditions, your brain has come to interpret benign sensations as harmful. The brain has made a prediction error, and this is usually reinforced by fear – fear of the symptoms themselves, fear stemming from unhopeful prognoses and scary sounding diagnoses, and fear due to an uncertain future. This fear can lead to thoughts, feelings and behaviours that reinforce the message of danger and keep your brain's alarm bells ringing.
The key to breaking this cycle and reversing debilitating symptoms is to uncover what is feeding your brain's prediction of danger and to help you learn to view your body's sensations through a lens of safety. As the nervous system unlearns its habits, you will regain confidence in your body.
For many people, a bit of pain re-education and support in accepting this new approach is all that is required to retrain the neural pathways and regain body confidence. If you think this might be you, then check out the resources page for the many free, low cost or paid self-education pathways available – and of course, reach out here if you need some confirmation that you're on the right track.
For others, however, the brain's threat perception sensitivity may be entangled with deeper issues, such as a nervous system that has been conditioned towards danger sensitivity due to childhood trauma or anxiety and depression. These deeper issues often benefit from one-to-one attention alongside self-education. If this is you, and you're open to exploring the neuroplastic approach, you're in the right place.