Did you know that the amount of pain that we feel is determined by the brain, not by the pain receptors in the body? This means that people feel pain in different ways, depending on how the brain has processed the pain. Recent research indicates that emotions and emotional states affect how we perceive pain. People suffering from chronic stress, from anxiety or depression will feel pain more intensely, for example, than those who are currently in a happier position in life.
So how does all this work? What happens when we feel pain? When we hurt ourselves sensors in the body send signals via the nerves up to our brain. Unlike the signals being continuously sent up to our brain to register for example, how warm we are or where our arm is, which get sent directly to the particular sensory or motor part of the brain; pain signals and information relating to pain get sent to all parts of the brain simultaneously. This means that all the information relating to the pain is being processed at the same time by the whole brain.
So, for example, if you bump your knee, nerval sensors in your knee will send the pain signal to the brain, together with information about if the knee is twisted, whether the skin has a friction burn or if the skin is broken, whether the knee is bleeding and if so how much; as well as environmental and emotional information such as where you are, who you are with, whether you feel scared, anxious or excited because you’re taking part in a volleyball match, for example. All this information is then processed simultaneously in the brain to determine if and how you feel the pain in your knee. Is it just a little bump where the initial pain dies in a few seconds, or is that same bump causing you a lot of discomfort and pain that remains with you for an hour or so? If you rub your knee directly after the bump, the information regarding the pressure and temperature of the rubbing action will also be processed within the nervous system, thus providing additional information that may have the effect of mediating the sense of pain. Your experience of the pain is thus determined by the brain and not by the actual damage to the tissue.
Scientists now suggest that there is no such thing as a pain receptor, but only a danger receptor. When we feel pain, the brain is perceiving a particular level of danger to the body. The perception of danger is subjective, depending on all the physical, psychological and social factors surrounding your life. So, pain too, is subjective, depending on where you find yourself in life and how the brain processes all this information. Different people in different situations will feel pain in different ways.
Anxiety, stress and catastrophising will increase the perceived threat of danger and will thus increase the perception of pain. Chronic pain, where pain persists over a period longer than three months, effectively rewires the brain, making plastic changes to the nervous system. Chronic pain does not provide a reliable measure of the actual damage to the tissues, which may have long healed, but focuses on the state of the nervous system and its perception of danger. Our emotions, stress and the presence, or lack, of social support, for example, will all affect how somebody reacts to pain. If we feel depressed, if we feel bad about ourselves, if we are under a lot of stress, if we are fighting with life alone, if we are mourning a loved one, then we will be focused on these negative things in our life and will feel our pain intensely. Wherever we focus our attention, this is what we will feel.
However, it is now scientifically recognised that one of the most effective ways of reducing pain is to create a feeling of safety. If we focus our attention on feeling safe, the feeling of pain diminishes. Mindful meditation, positive social support and very importantly, compassionate one-to-one care has been proven to have a long-term effect on reducing pain, including chronic pain. The neuroplastic changes to the nervous system will be reversed in small, consequent steps. It is important, however, that our attention remains focused on these positive changes within the body and the mind, no matter how small they may be. This way, we train the brain to accept a sense of ease, comfort and relaxation, a feeling of safety, and we train the body to focus on a decreased sense of pain. Step by small step, we can retrain our brain to reprocess the feeling of pain.
In order to achieve this the practitioner or therapist must be able to create a compassionate relationship with you, exploring and focusing upon where you and your body feel at ease and feel safe; focusing on the options and not on the restrictions; taking the focus away from the pain, and instead focusing on what works, what feels comfortable, what functions. This is how Ortho-Bionomy®, working from a position of comfort, helps to release stress and tension within the body. The focus of attention remains on the feeling of ease within the body, the feeling of safety, and thus reduces the feeling of pain. We focus on integrating the whole physical and emotional experience within the body, thus rewiring the nervous system. Ortho-Bionomy® is ideally positioned to work with pain and to facilitate the neurological reorganisation in addressing chronic pain.
Much of this information has been taken form the online study group “Current Research on Pain” given by Bruce Stark, a Senior Practitioner and Registered Instructor of Ortho-Bionomy in Australia.