Pain… It’s in the brain.

April 24th, 2010

In my Rolfing practice, I’m presented with different types of pain every day.  David Butler’s work has had a huge impact on the way which I view pain and how I talk about it with my clients.

Traditionally, we tend to take a “bottom up” approach to pain.  The idea here is that sensations go up into the body.  This theory has its place, there is no doubt about that.  The problem is there is no place for concurrent cognitions and emotions, leading to many therapies dominated by the “bottom.”

There is no fixed response in our Central Nervous System to different inputs when there is an injury.  A tickle sometimes tickles and sometimes it does not.  What hurts one hour or one day, may not hurt the next hour or the next day.  Responses depend on the value our CNS gives the input.  Value or threat processing is very complex.  A “top down” model , that is from the brain downwards enables us to engage this.

There is a big difference between “it is in your head” and “it is in your brain.”  There is a negative connotation with the idea that the pain is in your head.  The brain reacts to a pain input or any sensation with a very real physiological response.

The sensation sends a signal up to the brain, the brain interprets the threat level of the input.  Based on this interpretation, the brain may trigger a rush of adrenaline or cortisol or other hormones,  leading to increased muscle tone.

Often in my Rolfing practice I will have clients come in who are experiencing some type of pain prior to a big event.  This might be a sporting event or maybe a vacation or something else.  I just had a gentleman come in with lower back pain.  He was very concerned that he was not going to be able to ski on his vacation planned for next week in Colorado.  This pain in his back is very real, and because he views it as something that could keep him from skiing, it registers high on his “threat scale.”  This is all very normal behavior and a normal thought process.  His CNS is going to be more activated and the physiological responses I mentioned earlier will be in full effect.

Think of pain as an output from the brain as opposed to an input.

It is important for people to understand the brain’s role in pain when it comes to thoughts, emotions and belief systems.  I’m not suggesting that people need to stop these thoughts, they are completely normal.  What people can work with is coping mechanisms.  Simply educating yourself and understanding the brain’s role in pain can go along way to getting yourself better, quicker.

I highly recommend reading David Butler’s book Explain Pain if you are interested in this subject.

About Rolfing

About Rolfing

Rolfing® is a system of bodywork based on structural integration, developed by Ida Rolf...

About Brad

About Brad

Based in Bellingham, Rolfing practitioner Brad Jones has an office conveniently located in downtown Bellingham ...



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