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Is It all in Your Head? Understanding Pain

Ever since I started this journey of trying to self-manage my chronic pain condition, I have been intrigued by the concept of ‘pain’. What is pain really? How can you cope with it, and can it be influenced? Last year I came across this interesting theory that really resonated with me and thought it would be worth sharing with you.

“Your brain will make pain when it concludes that your body tissues are in danger and you need to do something about it” explain GL Moseley and DS Butler in their ‘Explain Pain Handbook’. “All of your body parts contain sensors that trigger constant messages to your brain about the current state of your body. These messages are simply electrical impulses, and are not pain. Pain is something different. Pain is something made by the brain. 100% of the time. No exceptions. Ever”

Have you ever had a situation when you had an injury but did not experience pain at the time? When I was young, I once worked at a deli counter. Part of my job was slicing meat with this huge manual slicing machine (you may have seen them at the butcher’s or supermarket, only now most of them are automated), and it wasn’t until one of my customers alerted me that the ham I was slicing for her was covered in blood, that I realized I sliced a piece of my finger off (so much for work health & safety!). I hadn’t felt any pain whatsoever; my brain had decided not to make pain at the time of the injury as it was more important for me to keep slicing. If my brain had used pain to protect me at that moment, I probably would have screamed and unsettled all the customers in the shop (yep, that’s me, loyal to the workplace!).

So why wasn’t it until I cleaned the workspace and alerted for a colleague to take over, that the pain kicked in? “Pain, first and foremost, exists to protect and preserve you”, continue GL Moseley and DS Butler, “Why you are hurting is all about context. Your context is the location, situation and current setting you find yourself in, along with your beliefs, values, understanding, and knowledge that you bring with you. Context provides a unique meaning to your experiences.”

 “You will have pain when your brain concludes that there is more credible evidence of danger related to your body that there is credible evidence of safety related to your body.”

 Their theory continues and suggests that everything that provides evidence of danger or safety can influence your pain.

A ‘Danger’ is anything in your life that is a threat to who you are as a person. This will be different for everybody, but it can for example be financial worries, the smell of a hospital, staying home all the time, your endometriosis diagnosis, anxiety, stress, or fear of the unknown.  A ‘Safety’ is anything that makes you feel stronger, better, safe and confident. Think of being with your family and friends, knowing all about endometriosis, trusting your doctor, a massage or bath, or your belief in the future.

So, you can say that the more Safety you have in your life, the less pain you are likely to have; and when there are more Dangers present, the more pain you are likely to have. To put this in perspective relating to my own experience; when I was off the pill for a while last year, my pain tended to be worse on the day that I was getting my expected period (I was on high alert and would be nervous about it for days), then when my period came along unexpectedly. When I was not expecting my period, I was in a ‘safe’ zone and not nervous about it, so therefore the pain was a lot less when it did decide to come along on a day I didn’t expect it.

Once you have identified your Safeties and Dangers, you can learn to understand and deal with your pain and perhaps even prevent pain from being triggered. I am still learning about my Dangers, and am slowly starting to understand how I can turn these into Safeties. One of my biggest Dangers was that I didn’t know enough about my condition and therefore feared it; I was worried about every pain I had. Doing the research for The Endo Lifestyle has taught me so much more about endometriosis and pelvic pain that I am now able to explain most of the pains I experience. This takes away a massive concern and therefore I am able to relax more, which in turn helps me with my pain. Win Win!

So, I guess it turns out that pain really is in your head…but only because your brain is there. Now you know this, perhaps next time when you experience pain, you look at it from a different perspective and maybe you can even figure out if there is a way you can influence it!

If you would like to know more about the concept of pain and how to influence your own pain, I strongly suggest you get yourself the ‘Explain Pain Handbook’ GL Moseley and DS Butler (try Amazon). This book includes a workbook that helps you identify all the danger signals that contribute to feeling your pain. You can also visit their website: /www.noigroup.com/en/Product/EPHPB for more information. (This is not an advertisement)

 

 

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