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Hopper: Tracing the roots of chronic pain
Pain can be sharp, shooting, dull, achy, local, radiating, burning, consistent, intermittent and much more.
Pain is a very challenging feeling to describe and even more challenging for doctors to treat.
Chronic pain is the number one reason why people go to see their doctor and yet over 80 per cent of patients still suffer.
Pain is typically defined as a primitive survival mechanism that keeps us out of potential danger and ensures that we allow adequate healing time.
However chronic pain—the kind that continues to linger well after the initial injury should have healed—is no longer a protective mechanism and can be the result of a central nervous system alarm system that has gone rogue.
The reason for alarm is no longer present and the injury itself may have healed long ago, yet the brain is stuck in a looping five alarm state, sending corresponding messages to the body.
Pain in this case is no longer keeping you out of harms way, but instead has morphed from protector to enemy as it consistently perpetuates the cycle of illness.
And when the five-alarm message becomes chronic, it actually changes the way that the brain works.
Recent brain imaging studies suggest that the brain in chronic pain is very different from a normal brain.
Haywire circuits in the brain or cross wiring cause the brain to register persistent pain and over time this can cause both changes to the physical structure and function of both the brain and body.
This cross wiring results in distorted pain perception and sends false stress messages to the physical body.
Living in this chronic five alarm state alters the body’s capacity to deal with stress and causes a physical breakdown in the cells, systems, and organs in the body.
As a result of this new research, we are starting to alter our perception of pain.
We are changing our paradigm from pain as a sensory symptom to a disease process within itself.
We are slowing moving away from traditional treatments that merely try to suppress pain and embracing new alternative methods that prevent and stop the disease process of pain.
Our medical model to date in treating chronic pain is to block the pain signals through medications that muffle this five-alarm signal in the hope that the brain and body will not hear them.
However, our focus needs to shift from dulling the alarm to completely shutting off the faulty alarm.
We are on the edge of a new paradigm in health care as we explore new noninvasive and natural treatments that self direct neuroplastic changes in the brain to correct this faulty pain mechanism in the brain.
Rather than turning down the volume of pain we are effectively changing the experience of pain itself.
Neuroplasticity—the brain’s ability to change—can be a blessing, or in the case of chronic pain it can be a curse.
Our understanding of neuroplasticity and the relationship between brain function and pain will no doubt change the way in which we understand, manage and treat pain.
Understanding and harnessing the brain’s ability to change is at the heart of the dynamic neural retraining system revolution in health care.
I am in the blessed position to witness what others would classify as medical miracles, when in fact it is the miracle of neuroplasticity.
Annie Hopper is a core belief counsellor and brain retraining specialist in Kelowna.