Typically we think that pain is a warning signal that we need to pay attention to.
When we feel pain, we stop and take notice and try to ascertain why we are feeling pain and do what we can to alleviate it.
Pain can be a brilliant built-in protective and survival mechanism, that for the most part serves us well in preventing further damage or injury.
However, why is it that in some cases, even after an injury has healed the pain still remains?
Or why is it that there are people who suffer from chronic pain with no known cause of origin?
In these cases it is often the disorganized circuits in the brain that are associated with trauma that are at the very root of pain itself.
The resulting cross-wired neural circuits are sending the body pain signals that are actually false messages. This is indeed what happens for many people.
For example, take phantom limb pain. In the book The Brain That Changes Itself, Dr. Norman Doidge had interviewed Dr. Vilayanur Ramachandran, known as the “wizard of neuroplasticity.”
Dr. Ramachadran is an expert in phantom limb pain and has found some very interesting and unbelievable ways to alleviate pain.
With phantom limb pain the patient often still feels the amputated limb and pain in the missing limb. But how can you feel pain in a “ghost” limb?
Well, as it turns out, during trauma the neural circuits in the brain become disorganized which can result in the sensation of pain.
In this case the root of pain is actually in brain function, not in the tissue itself.
Dr. Ramachandran was working with a man who was in a horrible motorcycle accident and eventually had to have his left arm amputated.
However, even though his arm was no longer physically there, he still had chronic pain in his “phantom limb” and it felt as if his left arm was frozen, resting on his chest as if it was still in a cast.
Dr. Ramachandran wondered if he could use the allusion of visual input to combat the allusion of pain.
Part of this experiment involved the patient putting his good arm in a mirror box, giving the allusion that he had a left arm.
As the patient looked in the box at the mirror image of his right arm and started to move his right hand, his brain started to recognize this image as real, in fact his brain registered the image as his missing left arm.
The results of the mirror box experiment were even shocking to Dr. Ramachandran.
He wondered if the mirror box would not only convince the brain that the phantom limb could move again, but wondered if this would alleviate chronic pain as well. Indeed this is what happened.
As we learn more about the brain and its role in our overall health and well being, we are also beginning to understand that the brain truly is the control centre for optimal health.
In fact, finding ways to change brain function is at the heart of a revolution in health care.
Self-directing neuroplastic changes in the brain can alter the projectory of your life and move you from merely surviving to thriving.
Teaching people how to change brain function is also at the heart of what I do through the Dynamic Neural Retraining System.
I am in the blessed position to regularly witness what others would claim as “medical miracles.”
As we learn to understand and harness the power of the brain, we also begin to question the whole notion of pain itself.
Annie Hopper is a limbic system neuroplasticity specialist.