Brain Pain Explained | Physio4Life

A Pain in the…Brain? by Faye Burge, Physio4Life’s Senior Physiotherapist

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brainA Pain in the…Brain??

Persistent pain can make even the basic tasks in our already busy lives feel too much. The reality of pain is it’s in your head.  Please don’t misunderstand, this does not mean that you are faking it! I explain to patients that a  pain signal it real despite us not being able to touch it smell or even see it.  As a physio what we can do is feel injured tissue, see bruising or swelling and appreciate when a tissue or structure needs to heal.  What tends to be forgotten is that in some cases the severity of pain felt is not an indication of how severe the injury is , especially when we are chatting about chronic pain. What we need to understand is that the brain its self sits in a “chemical soup” which can be altered by our thought patterns.  This “soup” can help or hinder us depending on our moods as signals are  constantly  absorbed  and fired off.

The signals that are absorbed by the brain are the ones ( as a patient ) we are most interested in.  Pain is a little like a radio playing , if we can play with the signal being heard by the body we can alter the pain perceived by the brain.  Simple ….? Sort of?  So how do we change the signals and therefore reduce the pain??

  1. Turn the volume down: the channels in the brain are faster at receiving signals of pressure and sensation than that of pain.  This is because the channel for sensation is larger than pain one and can carry more.  Think of it as the channel of sensation being the M25 ( therefore able to carry more cars and the channel for pain being the A68473565 (travelable but not as fast or efficient).  A prime example is a mother rubbing a kids knee better after he falls.  The pain is technically still thereheadphones but the signal of pressure over rides the pain and the child stops crying. Therefore we can conclude that pressure, massage, sensation of rubbing or a TENS machine helps to confuse the brain and make it “listen” to something else.
  2. Mind over matter: if all this tomfoolery is happening in the brain lets go there and investigate. Our thoughts, the art of mediation, relaxation and imagery and proven to help reduce the pain signals. I have a hero of a patient who describes his pain as “ a bit cheeky” when sore and finds visualising throwing cold water on the Fire (pain) really effective as it “dampens” down the pain and the signal.  Frustration is one of the key emotions most people suffer from when in pain but when we do feel like this notice how tense we are, tension = turning up the volume to the pain!!

Next time you are faced with pain do try to think how you can “dampen” some of the signals. Frustration and fear can only exacerbate your symptoms and remember that any member of the Physio4Life team are available to chat to via a phone consultation prior to an appointment.


-Faye Burge, Physio4Life’s Senior Physiotherapist.

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