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Neurological Mysteries – Can Pain Truly Originate In The Brain?

Written by: Mia Khalil, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

Executive Contributor Mia Khalil

The answer is Yes. The conscious and subjective experience of pain is indeed largely shaped and interpreted by the higher brain, including various regions in the cerebral cortex. These regions are responsible for processing and interpreting the sensory input related to pain, as well as integrating it with emotional and cognitive factors. Emerging neuroscience goes a step further to state that our brains create every experience in our bodies, not only the sensation of pain. According to Dr. Howard Schubiner, MD, one of the major pioneers in practical neuroplasticity and the emerging mind-body revolution in chronic pain treatment, this very process is called predictive processing and it has major implications for all of us.

Pain processes in the brain

When you experience pain, your brain not only receives signals from nociceptors (specialized nerve cells that detect noxious stimuli) but also engages in complex processes that determine how you perceive and respond to that pain. These processes include:

1. Interpretation

The higher brain regions interpret the sensory signals from nociceptors and provide a conscious understanding of the location, intensity, and quality of the pain. Click here to learn more about how psychological factors interact with physiology to modulate the experience of pain.

2. Emotional component

The brain's emotional centers, such as the amygdala, can add an emotional dimension to the pain experience, contributing to feelings of fear, anxiety, or distress associated with the pain. Click here to learn about the amygdala pain mechanisms.

3. Cognitive factors

Your thoughts, memories, and beliefs can influence how you perceive pain. For example, if you have had a negative experience with a particular type of pain in the past, this may affect your current pain perception. Click here to learn more about cognition and pain.

4. Attention

Your ability to focus on or divert your attention away from the pain can also be influenced by the higher brain. Distraction techniques, for instance, can help reduce the perception of pain. Click here to learn more about decreased pain sensitivity with engagement in attention-requiring tasks and with the use of environmental distractors.

5. Decision-making

Regardless of what causes the discomfort, it is the higher brain that is the “final decider” of whether to feel the experience of pain. This is the basis for anesthesia, which turns off conscious brain centers so that the surgeon can do things like cut open organs and slice skin without the brain registering a hint of pain. This also explains why a person fleeing a burning building on a broken ankle will not feel pain.

Chronification of pain

Chronic pain is a pervasive healthcare issue affecting over 50 million Americans and costing more than $100 billion dollars annually in lost productivity and healthcare costs. As a result, there has been a recent explosion of research on chronic pain, and it is now understood that regardless of what initially caused the pain, the central brain is most important in perpetuating and sustaining the pain experience. According to the principle of neuroplasticity, a chronically pain-sensing brain is simply more efficient at feeling pain.

“Pain becomes not just the symptom of a disease but a disease itself” – David Borsook
Human brain on fire

It is also true that the conscious and subjective experience of pain is a complex interplay between sensory input from the body and the cognitive and emotional processes that occur in the higher brain regions. This interaction is what gives rise to the diverse and nuanced experience of pain among individuals. In fact, overwhelming evidence suggests a complex combination of psychological, cognitive, and environmental factors in the chronification of pain. Major contributors include:

1. Fear

Fearful thoughts about pain are what feed the cycle of pain and contribute greatly to priming the brain for hypervigilance by maintaining an omnipresent sense of danger. Common ways to reinforce a symptom to make it occur more frequently include:

  • Worry about it and fear that it will never get better.

  • Focus on it, pay great attention to it, and constantly monitor it.

  • Fight it and give it power by hating it.

  • Be frustrated and greatly annoyed by it.

  • Try to figure it out and expend a lot of energy trying to determine what is causing it.

  • Try to fix it and work hard at making it go away.

2. Trauma and distress

It has been shown that people who have experienced childhood trauma or suffer from PTSD are 10 times more likely to experience chronic pain due to the mind-body connection. In fact, major concurrent or past emotional distress is linked to the creation of a brain environment of danger and tends to be present in people who suffer from chronic pain. Examples include:

  • Major childhood trauma.

  • Financial struggles.

  • Relationship stress, including divorce.

  • New heavy responsibilities, such as the birth of a child, a stressful job, or taking care of a sick family member.

  • Social isolation.

3. Personality traits

Over the past 120 years, there has been considerable research into the relationship between pain and personality. Some personal qualities that have been found to exacerbate pain include but are not limited to:

  • High sense of responsibility.

  • Deep empathetic nature.

  • Strong desire to “do what is good and what is right.”

  • People-pleasing.

  • Perfectionism.

  • Putting others ahead of self.

  • High ambition and drive to achieve.

4. Pain catastrophizing

Common feelings about the pain – such as pain catastrophizing – have been recognized to modulate pain-related outcomes. Examples of thoughts that play a role in perpetuating the condition include but are not limited to:

  • This is never going to end.

  • I can’t ever get rid of this.

  • Why did this happen to me?

  • I will never be able to figure this out.

  • What else will go wrong?

  • This is not fair. I can’t take it anymore.

  • I don’t want to be here right now.

Mind-body syndrome – a.k.a. brain pain – is reversible

While it is critical to understand that a person does not consciously choose to be in chronic pain, it is of utmost importance to understand the symptoms are very real and that they are not the result of a “bad” brain or personality. The Mind-Body Syndrome is very common and universal, and it is reversible. It is a simple consequence of neuroplasticity, which all brains possess, and it is part of the human condition.

There are many tools and techniques that are designed to reprogram neural pathways in the brain and overcome chronic pain. There are also multiple modalities that help sufferers gain awareness of the underlying social and psychological factors at play, and therefore provide tools and techniques to overcome such factors.

I am living proof that it is possible to heal from chronic pain. Since I've achieved full recovery from years of debilitating back and neck pain, I have become passionate about helping people get the same awesome results. I use a unique heart-centered coaching approach that reflects not only my personal experience of healing but also includes my training in multiple modalities, such as practical neuroplasticity and the emerging mind-body revolution in chronic pain treatment, Pain Reprocessing Therapy (PRT), Somatic Tracking, Emotional Awareness and Expression Therapy (EAET), Internal Family Systems (IFS) Therapy, Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), Hypnosis, Mental and Emotional Release® (MER) Therapy, Breakthrough Therapy, and Integrative Coaching. You can learn about my credentials here.

If you’re curious about how the Mind-Body approach can help you on your journey, book a call with me using this form. Tens of thousands of people are healing with the Mind-Mody approach – you can too!

Follow me on Facebook, LinkedIn, and visit my website for more info!

Mia Khalil Brainz Magazine

Mia Khalil, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Mia is a certified Integrative Neuro-linguistic programming Coach specializing in chronic pain recovery. After overcoming her debilitating chronic pain through the Mind-Body approach, she became passionate about helping others achieve similar results. This led her to study practical neuroplasticity and the emerging mind-body revolution in chronic pain treatment, Mental and Emotional Release® Therapy, Breakthrough Therapy, Hypnosis, and other therapeutic modalities. Mia founded her own holistic coaching practice to help people reclaim their power, overcome their limitations, eliminate pain, and live a life of freedom, joy, health, and well-being. Her mission: Create a free world.



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