There are natural solutions for pain that don’t involve prescription medication or invasive procedures. It turns out the brain and ones perception and response to stress have a powerful effect on the intensity of the pain experience. It also contributes to recovery’s length and efficacy. 1346
Neuroplasticity (brain plasticity) is your brain’s potential to change functionally and structurally to environmental changes. 111 Your brain’s ability to adapt and exhibit plasticity enables it to create new neural pathways and adapt. Neuroplasticity allows you to learn from past experiences, adapt to changes in the environment, and master new skills as you go through your life. 1011
When it comes to pain, your brain’s plasticity helps it form an association or a link between a painful sensation and present emotions, feelings, behaviors and the environmental stimuli that surrounds you. 146
This explains why certain scents or sounds trigger a pain response like a migraine, or why fear, depression, and anxiety can cause debilitating pain and affect overall quality of life.134
Think about how you feel after an intense fight with your significant other or a long, stressful day at work. You may either get a headache or experience tension and stiffening in your neck, shoulders or lower back.
Essentially, pain may be something your brain creates based on past experiences, upbringing, cultural influences, thoughts, emotions, your environment, and your current stress level. That’s actually good news because it puts the power to change those experiences into your hands.
New research in neuroscience, physical therapy, and psychology shows a strong connection between your brain’s adaptability or neuroplasticity and your perception of physical and emotional pain. 14610
This is important information to understand on the road to a pain-free life. Through technological advances over the past decade, scientists find the brain plays a central role in many different chronic pain conditions including chronic low back pain, chronic neck pain, whiplash injuries, chronic tension headaches, migraine headaches, osteoarthritis, endometriosis, injuries sustained in a motor vehicle accident, and following surgeries. 345
Fibromyalgia, chronic pain, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), pelvic pain, interstitial cystitis, and chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) also originate from sensitization or heightened central nervous system (CNS) stimulation. 112
CNS sensitization develops and manages chronic pain. When physical injury connects with a persistent stream of negative stimuli – like gloom and doom thoughts, fear, anxiety, and toxic emotions – your nervous system becomes highly reactive. 14510
Psychological and social factors play an important role in causing pain, especially after your injury has healed. Pain after the normal healing time is classic chronic pain. Thoughts, emotions, behaviors, prior experiences, cultural influences, religion, and work all impact your brain’s decision to produce pain.14510
These and other factors influence how your brain and nervous system process injury, disease, danger, and recovery. At the heart of your persistent pain lie your thoughts about pain and experience. 6Your mind and body are not separate, but indeed very much connected and always exchanging information.
The way you think and respond to stress influences how you experience life and feel physically, emotionally, and energetically. According to the Association of Anxiety and Depression of America, people prone to anxiety and depression have higher rates of developing disease and suffer common aches and pains as well as chronic, more persistent conditions like arthritis and fibromyalgia. 2
You literally have the power to change pain sensations in your body by changing your thoughts and consciously rewiring your brain. Less pain is possible.
Scientifically speaking, your brain receives stimuli from both your internal and external environment, subsequently transmitting signals to different tissues and organs triggering a physical response. Nutritionists often say that you are what you eat. According to neuroscience, you are what you think.
If you live under chronic stress, working in a stressful job, or remain stuck in a toxic relationship, while focusing on the negative aspects of your life, your sensation of pain after a physical injury can be intensified and your body’s healing process disrupted. Moving beyond pain becomes difficult.
The pain response is your body’s way to protect you. Your brain literally thinks that an injury or emotional stress is placing you at risk, so it creates pain to force you to withdraw from the situation and seek healing. 1410
Stress: How it Heals, How It Harms
Chronic stress puts your nervous system in a highly reactivity state. Your brain sends danger signals to your body, resulting in overstimulation of the sympathetic nervous system, which in turn leads to the excess production of your stress hormone cortisol.46Among its functions, cortisol raises blood sugar and suppress immune system.
Increased cortisol levels release chemicals that cause inflammation, aiding healing and recovery. Cortisol should do its job and simmer down. When this hormone sticks around beyond its prime, it inhibits healing and contributes to poor sleep, anxiety, and depression, all of which exacerbate pain and lead to weight gain.4
Short-term stress is a lifesaver. It saved us from a saber-tooth tiger eating us for lunch back in the day, and it can save us today when someone swerves into our lane on the freeway.
Unfortunately, instead of dealing with stressful situations occasionally, we become bombarded with minor stressors, whether they involve stuck in traffic, dealing with an angry boss, or taking care of young children and sick, aging parents. These stressors can have a detrimental effect on our nervous system and our ability to fully heal and recover from chronic pain.
Your body isn’t equipped to handle these stressors on a daily basis. In its attempt to adapt, it over-stimulates the endocrine system, especially the adrenal glands, triggering a chain of biochemical events like excess catecholamines and pro-inflammatory cytokines.
Altogether, this can become catastrophic for your health and lead to physical, emotional and psychological imbalances, illness, and chronic pain. 1346
5 Ways to Minimize Pain and Optimize your Brain
You have the power to manage stress, optimize brain function, and eliminate pain. You can relieve pain naturally. These five strategies help my patients become happier and healthier without resorting to drugs or other invasive procedures.