Pain Pathways

Pain Pathways

The electrical lines in our home were a hot mess when we moved in. It occurred to me that the felt experience of pain is like old wiring. While sensation is an individual experience, all pain runs through the nervous system. In the case of chronic pain, messages can get stuck replaying endlessly in a loop. The pain is real, but like old wiring, sometimes the message needs to be updated.

Here is how it works. Nociceptors send electrical impulses to the brain sounding the alarms of potential danger. This is a good thing. It’s why we pull our hand away from a hot stove. In a 2011 TED talk, Dr. Elliot Krane describes how pain can linger after the healing has completed due to the feedback loop. He likened it to a rogue electrician who has sneaked into your house and rewired all of your circuits so that the next time you flip a switch, your toilet flushes. This rewiring distorts the subjective experience of pain, turning chronic pain into its own disease.

This chain reaction is partly why medication is insufficient and unequal to the task. They provide temporary relief, which can be godsend, but for a long-term relief we have to reprogram the messaging. In order for this to work, the pain (injury, surgery, etc.) must be healed. This is an important caveat, as unhealed pain is sending accurate messages.

Rewire Old Pathways

This kind of pain is common among people who have ignored injuries throughout their lives and the only way to erase it is with gentle movement. When you have an injury or are suffering from chronic pain, regular gentle exercise is essential to prevent atrophy, rebuild healthy tissue and create new patterns in the brain.

Many people don’t know how to exercise when they are in pain. When my back would spasm, movement was excruciating. It took my training in Essentrics to understand the healing power of exercise. If we back off just before the pain signals, we disrupt the neural pathway from the muscle to the brain.

When moving like this the trick is to be soft, like a rag-doll. That’s the physical state we want to be in to work in harmony with the neurological system. The ‘rag-doll’ state inhibits the natural, protective reflexes from contracting the muscles that “protect” the pain.

Movement Is Medicine

I spent years popping pills, soaking in salt baths, and lying on acupuncture and massage tables to alleviate pain. While these passive treatments help offset it, the final route to a pain-free body was correct, gentle, full-body rebalancing exercises.

The healing didn’t happen overnight, but it didn’t take much time either. About 30 minutes a day on regular basis. Patience and perseverance were guides encouraging me along. If you live with chronic pain or are suffering from an injury or are in recovery, know that it’s possible to unlock the body’s innate healing capacity and live pain-free.

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