How to Find Relief Using The Science of Pain

Published On - 3 January, 2020By Alina Butunoi

If you’re like millions of people around the world, chances are you’ve experienced physical pain at some point in your life. Whether it’s a serious debilitating injury or the common aches that come with age, sooner or later we all experience pain.

But it’s the science of pain that not only provides insight into how and why we experience certain symptoms, but also provides a surprising solution to help bring relief.

What Causes Pain in Our Bodies?

To better understand the science of pain, we first have to understand how our brains actually work. Because while our brains can process an incredible amount of information, they’re also focused on one primary job: survival. Despite the huge leaps in technology and human civilization, the fact is that our brains haven’t evolved much over the past 200,000 years and are still hardwired to survive in the harsh environments of our ancient ancestors. Today, most of us live in a world of luxury and relative safety. But to our brains we’re still living in a primitive world filled with hidden threats and all-too real dangers.

To increase our chances of survival, our brains try to identify patterns around us in order to predict what is most likely to happen in the future. If our brain believes that something that’s about to happen is a threat to our survival, we may in fact experience pain as a way to mitigate the effects of this potential threat.

This may seem counterintuitive at first. After all, we believe that pain is more of a cause and effect condition. We stub our toe, and then our brain processes the damage through nerves and receptors.

Extensive research into the science of pain, however, suggests that we don’t actually need to experience physical damage to our body like a broken bone or torn muscle in order to experience recurring pain. In fact, we can absolutely be in severe pain without having an actual injury. And we can have a severe injury without knowing it and experiencing any pain at all.

In other words pain does not necessarily equal injury. And injury does not necessarily equal pain.

While again, this might seem like a strange way to think about how we experience pain, there are plenty of situations in which our brains process information in a similar way. For example, fatigue, muscle tension, digestive issues, insomnia, anxiety and depression can, in many cases, simply be a way for our brain to protect us from perceived threats.

And here’s the most important piece of the puzzle when it comes to the science of pain: any input our brain receives from our environment or inner world can be perceived as dangerous and life-threatening, and therefore result in physical pain. The input doesn’t necessarily have to be physical. It could be cognitive, emotional or even social. This means your knee can hurt because of a worry about your finances or a conflict with a co-worker. And again, the science of pain backs this up.

Using Our Brains to Treat Pain

If we think of pain as more than just a cause and effect, but rather a protective output and action signal from our brains, we can use this knowledge to help treat the symptoms and experience relief.

One simple technique you can use the next time you experience pain in your body is to ask yourself the following questions:

  1. What emotional, physical or cognitive challenges am I experiencing right now?
  2. How can I master those challenges so my brain won’t label them as a threat?
  3. What can I do in the future to let my brain know that we’re safe?

It may sound like an oversimplification of something that feels entirely physical and out of our control, but the science of pain suggests that this cognitive, thought-based approach can actually have surprising benefits.

Again, it’s important to remember that we are wired first and foremost for survival. If we learn how to identify the potential “threats” our brain perceives, we can actually avoid the feedback loop and find relief from pain while reaching the full heights of our human potential.

Interested in learning more about our pain management and brain training solutions? Contact Align for Performance today to schedule an appointment. 

About Author

Alina Butunoi

Alina Butunoi is one of Ottawa's most respected brain training and pain management practitioners. A previous nominee for the Ottawa 40 Under 40 business leaders, she is also a certified Movement Neurology Specialist with Z-Health, a cutting-edge neuro-exercise system that helps improve health, alleviate pain and maximize athletic performance.

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