Have you ever been told "It's all in your head?" While we at The Healing Collective beg to differ (since we target the root cause of issues and flat out refuse to blame the patient for their health challenges), there can actually be some amount of truth to the statement ... just not in the way that you may think.
Pain is 100% produced by the brain: no brain = no pain. But that does NOT mean that you are making up your pain.
"Pain is produced by the brain when it believes we are threatened." -Adrienne Louw, Pain Neuroscience Educator
You can think of pain as a response to when a threshold is reached. The brain is constantly interpreting inputs from the body, emotions, and surroundings and determining the appropriate response with the bottom line of keeping you alive and safe. Pain is adaptive, but sometimes we become sensitized and it interferes with our lives in a big way.
If you stub your toe on a normal day, you rub it and it aches for a bit and then you move on. On the other hand, if you and your partner just had a fight and your pet is sick and you got fired from your job and then stubbed your toe, the toe will most likely hurt worse. Or, if you have occult mold toxicity leading to chronic low-grade inflammation and you stub your toe, it may very well hurt worse and take longer to heal. That is because the brain is tallying up inputs, whether emotional or physical, and if there are too many inputs (or inputs that reach a threshold), the brain perceives a little toe-stub as far more threatening than it actually may be.
MYTHS BUSTED There are no "pain areas" in the brain; instead, the brain uses many other areas of the brain to express itself. Studies show that 9 areas of the brain light up in a functional MRI when there is a pain experience. These brain areas correspond to
Stress & motivation
Movement & cognition
Memory & pain
The spinal cord
Organization & preparation for movements
Concentration & focus
Problem solving & memory
Fear conditioning & addiction
Pain is NOT cause and effect; rather it is an accumulation of experiences that gets expressed. That's why someone with horrific "bone on bone degenerative changes" on an X-ray can be pain-free, and someone with no MRI findings can have excruciating pain.
HOW TO ADDRESS PAIN
Aerobic exercise is very effective at releasing endogenous opioid analgesics or pain-relieving chemicals that your body makes naturally. You can go for a brisk walk and still get benefit.
However, some of our clients have severe fatigue and the mere thought of aerobic exercise is exhausting. We have seen many patients who have tried standard Physical Therapy only to find out that it is too much for their overly-sensitized nervous system or they are wiped out for days after even just a 30-minute session. That's how an integrative, Functional Medicine approach can help, because we will seek the root of why the fatigue is happening (no, you're not just lazy!), clear the root, and resolve fatigue so that exercise is an option again.
Frequency Specific Microcurrent (FSM) is a non-invasive modality that we frequently use in the clinic to reduce inflammation and pain and address nervous system components that help with lowering the firing threshold for pain in the brain.
Yoga, meditation, and breathing practices can be very beneficial in modulating the nervous system to be less sensitized to the multi-faceted pain experience.
GET EMPOWERED ABOUT PAIN
Here are some books that we have found to be exceptionally useful for clients and patients in learning about pain:
Explain Pain by Lorimer Moseley is one of our favorite accessible books about pain that is geared toward patients/clients looking to learn about the latest pain neuroscience.
The Explain Pain Handbook Protect-o-meter by David Butler and Lorimer Moseley is the partner workbook to Explain Book where Individuals can explore their own pain story.
Why Do I Hurt by Aadrian Louw is a workbook that empowers individuals to work through their experience step-by-step to re-frame and heal their experience with pain.
Taming Pain: Lessons from the Trenches by Cheryl Wardlaw - a downloadable e-book with many colorful illustrations and a deep dive into pain, inflammation, and healing. Great for visual learners looking for accessibility and evidence.
Yoga Therapy as a Creative Response to Pain by Matthew J. Taylor
HELP WITH CHRONIC PAIN If you are feeling ready to determine the root cause of your chronic pain so that you can address it and heal, reach out to us for a free 10-minute consult.
Louw, A. International Spine & Pain Institute (over 80 papers can be accessed here: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Adriaan-Louw-2)
The integrative Pain Science Institute: https://www.integrativepainscienceinstitute.com/latest_podcast/pain-neuroscience-education-plus-with-adriaan-louw-pt-phd/
Moseley, G.L., A pain neuromatrix approach to patients with chronic pain. Man Ther, 2003. 8(3): p. 130-40.
Melzack, R., Pain and the neuromatrix in the brain Journal of Dental Education, 2001. 65: p. 1378-1382.
Planells-Cases R et al. Functional aspects and mechanisms of TRPV1 involvement in neurogenic inflammation that leads to thermal hyperalgesia. Eur J Physiol 2005;451151-159.
Saab CY et al. Alarm or pain? The pain of neuroinflammation. Brain Res Rew. 2008; 58: 226-235.
Schaefer M et al. Fooling your feelings: artificially induced referred sensations are linked to a modulation of the Primary Somatosensory Cortex. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1053811905004933
The information on this site is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice. It is intended as a sharing of knowledge and information from the research and experience of Dr. Grisanti and his functional medicine community. Dr. Grisanti encourages you to make your own health care decisions based upon your research and in partnership with a qualified health care professional.
We offer whole-person functional and integrative care at The Healing Collective. Contact us to schedule a free consult or to become a new patient at our clinic in Niwot, CO. Learn more about our functional medicine providers here.