Pain Is In Your Brain
May 17 2011
You will only feel pain if the brain thinks that the stimuli is threatening or it is a danger to the body. And this is what I tried to convey in my pain article. Check it out if you haven’t read it. But most people can’t fathom this concept.
In the below presentation by Lorimer Moseley – one of the leading researchers of pain- he talks about the concept of how ‘pain is in the brain’ by giving an example from his own life. The post below talks about this example.
Scratch from a twig: This was 8 years ago when Moseley was camping in western Australia: Something touches the left side of his leg when he is walking on the trail through the woods. It activates the nociceptors (pain receptors)
Brain thinks: This is not dangerous, we have been here a million times, I grew up walking bare foot in a bush. My nick name was scratchy because I used to have to so many scratches on my leg. So the brain says kick of the twig and get back to business. (Remember this evaluation by the brain is outside of your control or awareness. It happens in a split second)
No Pain: Here he feels no pain since the brain do not think it is threatening and you need to be protected.
Result: 3 days later he wakes up in the hospital. He was the first survivor of eastern brown snake (grade 3 bite). The bite works by stimulating the nerves and hence it ‘should’ be extremely painful.
Scenario 2 (6 months later)
Scratch from a twig: 6 months later he was walking down the bush and something scratches the left side of his leg. It activates the nociceptors (pain receptors) as usual.
Brain thinks: This is highly threatening since last time I was in the bush and a twig scratched, I almost died. So this scenario is really threatening and he needs to be protected. (Again, evaluation by the brain is outside of your control or awareness. It happens in a split second)
Extreme Pain: There is extreme pain and he falls down and is holding his leg.
Result: It was just a scratch from a twig and ‘should not’ be painful.
The stimuli is the same in both scenarios. One is extremely painful and the other is not at all painful. What changed? The only thing that changed is how the brain perceives the stimuli, and it really doesn’t matter if the pain receptors are activated or not!
- The point is you will only feel pain when the brain feels it indeed dangerous and you need to be protected.
- This happens at the unconscious level and you cannot control what your brain is thinking in that split second. What your brain thinks depends on your combined input of previous beliefs, social context, attitudes, expectation, sensory cues and such
- So the goal of any pain treatment should be to lower the threat level in your brain. One way to do this is to understand the physiology of pain and the fact that ‘pain is in your brain’.