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Wednesday, September 12, 2012
Shrink your pain
We hear alot about pain only being felt in the brain. This is true. Pain is defined as an emotional response to a noxious stimuli.
If I stand on a nail my foot senses it in a particular way and sends a rapid signal to my spinal cord which instructs the muscles required to rapidly withdraw my foot. If I only withdrew my foot I'd fall over so the signal also simultaneously goes to my spine and brainstem so my entire body responds automatically to 'save' me. My torso and neck stiffens, arms shoot out, adrenaline pumps, pupils dilate. The list is long but basically my brain responds to remove the body from a perceived threat.
And that's just the start...
Part of this mechanism is pain. We've all experienced cracking our shin or stubbing our toe so we're all familiar with the fact that pain doesn't come until just AFTER the abrupt sensation. In fact the nerves which register the rapid deformation of my toe conduct their message to my brain FASTER than the nerves that will kick off a pain response.
Our brain then learns. We're familiar with being on guard following an injury. We'll limp or become anxious even when there is no pain because our brain remembers the experience and importantly the circumstances under which it was experienced. So we'll take a wide berth around that table leg next time or we'll limp or stand crookedly long after our back was strained.
Our brain can even feel pain when it thinks it will feel pain. For example we can experience pain when we perceive it in someone else. Like those times when we watch Funniest Home Bloopers.
I have an old back injury and I can't stand to watch my kids sit down heavily. It actually gives me a jolt which I can't describe as pain but it makes the hair stand up. It's unpleasant.
This is one way whereby pain can persist and become chronic. Apart from having old injuries properly dealt with you can actually shrink your pain using a number of methods.
We now know that we can manipulate our own brains and change the way we actually experience the world and our body. We can literally shrink and magnify sensations if we alter our perception of them.
We can use any method. A sore finger becomes less so if it appears smaller or if I imagine it being smaller. At first it's easier to trick the brain using sight (see picture above) but with practice you can use imagination. Ultimately your imagination is a more powerful, accessible and adaptable tool.