Wednesday, 6 July 2022

Our brain decides our Pain

We have all injured ourselves at some point in our lives, at least stubbing our big toe a few times or walking into a desk! Pain can be felt from a recent injury and it improves over a few days/weeks and some pain can be chronic, perhaps building over a few months or long-term and sometimes there appears to be little explanation as to why this pain is felt.

Pain is actually an output from the brain not a direct response from the area where pain is felt. Nociceptors, these are our pain sensing neurons all over the body and they sense injury, inflammation and if something is not right and happily pass signals up to the brain. Our brain then decides on the threat and decides how to react. Our brains perception of the injury or threat and its reaction is influenced by a lot of things - past trauma or injury, our past experiences, environment, hormonal health and balance. 

Pain is a natural protection response and provides us with a message that something is “upset,” some part of the body needs to be protected or rested, and so the local soft tissue inflammatory response will make movement more limited and painful.  I really like this explanation that pain provides us with a “safety buffer” (Professor Lorimer Moseley ref. 1), therefore stoping us from creating an even bigger problem.

Long-term pain & pain hyper-sensitivity increases the safety buffer too, so they feel the same, the body thinks we are constantly in an “injured” state

If you imagine running a marathon and mile 23 your legs start to ache and are heavy, so this is a warning that the soft tissues have almost reached their tolerance point, so we are in the “safety buffer zone” (see image above).

With injury and/or inflammation the tolerance point of the tissues is lower and the safety buffer is also bigger meaning that pain is felt earlier on and more easily. In the short-term pain is effective to help us take care of ourselves and heal.

IMPORTANTLY the exact same thing happens to the "safety buffer", it is bigger and hence more easily reached, if the pain system becomes hyper-sensitive - there is increased sensitivity of our body’s natural alarm system. The body continuously adapts to this threat and various chemical/hormonal changes take place which allow the system to become better at sending pain signals. There is persistent pain and this can spill over into other soft tissues.  This can be the vicious circle of long-term pain.

BUT another IMPORTANTLY is… our nervous system is always malleable, we learn lessons about our pain, what feelings, environments, movement influence it and our soft tissues can be encouraged to “soften”, heal and mobilise creating positive change in the body’s natural homeostasis.

So, to manage and start taking control of pain, something has to change?  Figuring out exactly what the change is can take time and be hard but can be achieved by physical, psychological and well-being treatment, therapy and education.

My role as a Sports Massage & Remedial Therapist is to listen and to understand you and your pain, to assess and with hands-on advanced Massage & Myofascial Release techniques treat your soft tissues with the aim of enabling you to move better and by moving better generally you can decrease your pain. Mobility and strengthening will generally create positive change.

So, don’t let those niggles manifest - whatever they maybe.   
Nicky’s Sports Massage to understand, explain, treat and provide self-care exercises. 

Nicky Holbrook
July 2022

(1) Prof. Lorimer Moseley - Flippin Pain - Prof. Mosely has worked with the NHS presenting talks, videos, podcasts to explain pain, how our body perceives and feels pain and how to help ourselves. You will numerous talks online, Youtube, Facebook if you type in his name and Flippin Pain.
Image 1 Prof. Lorimer Mosely -Flippin Pain.