Understanding the Mind-Body Connection: How Your Mindset Is The First Step To Taking Back Control
Did you know that without a brain, you would be entirely pain-free? That is because pain is a signal that is perceived in the brain. That's right; technically speaking, it is all in your head. Learn about the mind-body connection and how pain can negatively alter our brains and what we can do to prevent and reverse this!
How pain works
Ever wonder why it takes a second to tell if that running water is extremely hot or cold? That is a rough example of how our bodies signaling system works. When we experience pain, lets say from touching something hot. The signal must come up the peripheral nerve of our fingers, hand, and arm, all the way to the spinal cord. The spinal cord then sends a signal to the brain, the brain interprets the signal then the message is sent back down the spinal cord and peripheral nerve back to the site of pain or in this instance the hot water, only then will the feeling of pain be registered. That is why when you burn your hand or stub your toe, there is a slight delay where you have just enough time to wonder “how much is this going to hurt”?
The brain’s responses to pain can then be swelling, bruising, bracing, and in some instances an overreaction resulting in chronic pain. Because pain takes place in the mind, science has only begun to understand how it works, let alone treat it effectively.
Understanding Chronic Pain
We've all spilled something on a white shirt, if you haven't, we just jinxed you. Sometimes you get lucky and it washes out on its own, sometimes you might have to do some extra work to get it out, but every once in a while, no matter what you do or how many times you wash it, a stain sticks around. We can think of chronic pain in this way. Acute pain washed out, a tweaked back took some work but went away, but that 6-month red wine stain represents chronic pain, and we're going to need a different approach to it entirely.
“Chronic pain often outlives its original causes, worsens over time, and takes on a puzzling life of its own… there is increasing evidence that over time, untreated pain eventually rewrites the central nervous system, causing pathological changes to the brain and spinal cord and that these, in turn, cause more significant pain. Even more disturbingly, recent evidence suggests that prolonged pain damages parts of the brain, including those involved in cognition.”
The mind-body connection
Effects of chronic pain on the brain
Now that we know how the brain is involved in processing pain, we must understand that the brain processes all types of pain similarly. Whether the pain is acute, chronic or emotional; thanks to advancements in neuroimaging techniques, we can see that pain, especially chronic pain can affect regions of the brain associated with emotions and cognition. This means when living with pain for long enough, it begins to change the way our brains work and ultimately change who we are as a person, and if you have ever met someone with a bad back, it makes sense because that is usually all they ever talk about.
“Individuals who suffer from unrelenting pain are often depressed, anxious and have difficulty making simple decisions. Researchers found that in people with chronic pain, a front region of the cortex associated with emotion fails to deactivate when it should. It's stuck on full throttle, wearing out neurons and altering their connections.”
How to affect the mind-body connection
Because of the continued failure to effectively alleviate pain, new research is looking into different forms of treatment and therapy, from meditation to cognitive behavioral therapies, relaxation practices to hypnosis and even psychedelic substances.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
We have written about the benefits of CBT before in the management and treatment of chronic pain. As we have learned the parts of the brain that have nothing to do with pain-sensing can be negatively affected by chronic forms of pain. This is why we see very little progress in the treatment of chronic pain through methods like opiates. The actual injury healed but the brain is still registering pain. This requires a more therapeutic approach, one that cognitive behavioral therapy seems to hold true promise.
As with CBT, we have mentioned mindfulness meditation in dealing with pain before. As stated above with newfound advancements in brain imaging, studies show that mindfulness and meditation practices soothe the underlying brain patterns of pain, over time these changes appear to take root and alter the structure of the brain itself. So if chronic pain can alter the mind negatively, it seems there may be promise in mindfulness meditation positively affecting the brain towards restoring normal function.
Breathing and Relaxation exercises
One thing we have not mentioned is tension and stress. Our daily lives are set to a pace never before seen in human existence, add chronic pain to that equation and quality of life can suffer. The methods range from simple breathwork to more obscure things like sensory deprivation tanks or hypnosis. All with the same aim, decreasing stress.
Stress = Tension & Tightness = Pain.
By adding in daily breathwork, we can make a massive difference in the amount of tension held in our bodies as well as reduce perceived stress by our brains. Remember, we are in control. Anytime someone is panicking, they are told to take deep breaths, this helps reduce perceived stress. We may not be in a full-blown panic every day, but we are definitely living at moderate to higher levels of stress, so if deep breaths help in an emergency, they will certainly help us reduce tension and stress in our day-to-day lives.
Mind-Body Connection and Pain
Putting It All Together
Knowledge – Application – Results
We learned how pain works and how it can negatively change the brain long after the initial injury has healed. We learned that through new therapies, we can perceive pain differently and reverse these negative changes brought on by chronic pain.
Now it's your turn to apply these.
Pain is complex, and there isn't one pill or procedure that can fix you. The solution is as complex as the problem. However, that doesn't mean you have to do this alone.
The MoveU program addresses pain on three fronts. Mental, Emotional & Physical. MoveU will teach you to think differently about your pain while providing you with a community of members that have been precisely where you're at. All while teaching you how to strengthen your body back into alignment so that your mind and body can finally heal.
Written by David Schroer