Healing Chronic Pain Syndromes
YOUR PAIN IS REAL
Have you been to doctor after doctor, only to hear that they can’t find an explanation for your chronic pain? Or maybe you’ve been diagnosed with an illness or injury and tried every intervention to address it, but the pain just won’t go away? Perhaps you’ve even been told that you’ll just have to live with the pain forever?
Chronic pain syndromes have reached epidemic proportions in the United States, from migraines to fibromyalgia to back pain to pelvic pain and more. Sometimes pain defies a clear diagnosis. But as chronic pain sufferers know all too well, your pain is very real.
how does pain become chronic?
When no physical damage can be identified - and even in some cases where physical causes have been diagnosed - it is possible that your pain may be perpetuated by learned neural pathways. What does this mean?
All pain - whether tied to physical injury or not - is created in the brain. Pain is a signal meant to keep you safe by alerting you to danger. Pain signals can be triggered by physical injury, like a broken leg. They can also be triggered by emotional injury, like a broken heart. There’s a reason we say things like “that hurt my feelings.”
Regardless of origin, pain signals can become habituated over time. This happens when new stressors (physical or emotional) remind the brain of the original injury, triggering a replay of the pain signal. These reminders may be conscious but are often unconscious. Over time, the pain signal becomes a learned response to a wider and wider array of stressors.
As pain patterns become more persistent, avoiding potential triggers becomes a full-time job. Often, sufferers give up many of the activities that bring them joy and vitality in an effort to avoid pain. The persistent fear and vigilance trigger an increase in pain signals. The result is a vicious cycle in which pain gets bigger as life gets smaller.
there is hope!
The good news is: just as chronic pain can be learned, it can also be unlearned.
You may have heard the term “neuroplasticity.” What this means is that learned neural pathways are not fixed, but can be updated by the intake and repetition of new information. By harnessing the power of neuroplasticity, it is possible to teach your brain to respond to stressors in new, healthier ways that don’t involve pain signals.
According to Dr. Howard Schubiner, renowned expert on the mindbody approach to chronic pain, the keys to healing are:
Reduce the fear that escalates pain by learning that your patterned pain signals - while highly uncomfortable - do not signify bodily damage.
Learn how to react to stressors from a place of empowerment. Pain patterns are triggered when the brain thinks you are in danger. By reassuring the brain that you can protect yourself from stressors - by setting boundaries, standing up for yourself, and fighting back when necessary - you’re teaching your brain that it doesn’t have to fire pain signal.
Even if you have been struggling with chronic pain patterns for years, it IS possible to change your brain’s circuitry and unlearn your pain.
HOW DO I KNOW IF THIS approach IS RIGHT FOR ME?
If any of the following are true, your pain may respond well to this approach:
Your pain is not constant and continuous, but is chronically reoccurring.
The intensity of your pain varies over time.
The location of your pain varies over time.
You notice that your pain often shows up during times of stress.
Chronic pain syndromes that have been shown to respond well to this approach include:
Headaches and Migraines
Neck and Back Pain
Chronic Abdominal and Pelvic Pain Syndromes
Sciatic Pain Syndrome
Repetitive Stress Injury
Foot Pain Syndromes
Myofascial Pain Syndrome
For success stories, research studies and more information, you may want to visit these resources:
Dr. Howard Schubiner’s Unlearn Your Pain
Psychophysiologic Disorders Association Educational Videos
Like Mind Like Body podcast
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