‘Chronic Pain – Is it all in your head?’

For some, particularly those living right now with a chronic pain experience, this may be a painful question to read…it may be one that has been posed by a health professional sitting across a desk in front of you…it may have felt, and still feel, unfathomable that they could have said that to you…they may not have known the truth in their statement, but we are going to explain it to you now. We feel pretty confident you will feel better informed, and hopefully, even a bit better after you have thought about it…

Say you’ve sustained a pretty significant injury, it might have been your back, your ankle, your hand, could have been anywhere. There are detailed studies of specific injuries that highlight the significant variables in an individual’s healing time. But, generally, between the third and sixth month of your recovery, there is clinical agreement, most of the tissues involved in the injury have healed, as much as they are able to. Any ‘pain’ or ‘warning to protect’ signals from your body, associated with this healing process, should have dissipated and stopped. But for many people, a staggering 20% of Australians, the pain experience continues, and for many they feel like it grows, spreads and gets worse as time goes on – not better. 

Why does this happen for some and not others?

When you think about this further you begin to wonder…

Why does my elder friend, who tends his garden daily with hands wildly deformed with arthritis, and a back that stands quite stooped as he proudly shakes my hand, firmly say he has no pain at all?

Where did that big bruise on my leg come from?…and why can’t I remember the injury that caused it? (Surely that should have hurt?!?)

How is it that someone can walk on a broken leg to save their child, and not feel a thing until they are both out of harms way?

There has got to be more to this pain thing than tissues and nerves…

There IS! The answer IS in your head, there IS more to it…it IS in your BRAIN!

Advances in research over the past decade have fundamentally changed scientists' understanding of chronic pain. Experts now acknowledge that in many cases chronic pain (including migraine) is coming from the brain, caused by unhelpful changes known as “maladaptive plasticity”. Neuroplasticity is a term used to describe the ability of the brain to change throughout life, as a result of what we do, what happens to us, and even what we think. Whilst neuroplasticity can result in helpful changes in the brain, such as learning to play a musical instrument, it can also work against us and result in chronic pain. This is called maladaptive plasticity. It is even possible now to map pain centres in the brain with special brain imaging which can help increase our understanding of chronic pain and direct treatment.

This astounding and wonderful shift in the scientific knowledge of the complexity chronic pain and the brain is now becoming so realised, it has even reached the conversation tables of the Australian Government. This short video from Pain Australia is a simple summary:

This new understanding of chronic pain has resulted in innovative brain-based treatments that target the changes in the brain. The Perth Brain Centre has been helping people with chronic pain for over 10 years and have a caring team of health professionals including occupational therapists, nurses and psychologists. We understand the complexity of your unique situation, and the lack of clearly explained information that may actually have led to a worsening of your pain experience over time. Everybody’s brain and pain experience is unique, and there is no “one size fits all” approach to successful treatment. Detailed assessments, including special brain scans called QEEG, help to guide effective treatment programmes.

For further information about how brain-based treatments can help you or someone you know with chronic pain please contact The Perth Brain Centre (08) 65003277 or www.perthbraincentre.com.au.

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