Author: Dr. Scott Allin on 22 June 2021
First I’ll go over how your body’s tissues tell your brain that they
hurt and what stimulates those tissues to feel pain. Then I’ll discuss
the difference between acute and chronic pain and explain different
mechanisms of chronic pain and the misconceptions associated with them.
Finally I’ll suggest certain measures you can take to mitigate or
reverse chronic pain to address each mechanism.
Pain sensation involves three relays from your body’s tissues to your
brain. The first relay is when your body’s tissue tells a sensory neuron
embedded in your body’s tissues that they are being stressed or damaged
by releasing a noxious chemical agent. This stress or damage to your
body’s cells can come from trauma, mechanical strain, excessive heat or
cold, a chemical imbalance, infection, electrical shock, or even
When the sensory neuron embedded in your body’s tissues senses noxious
stimulants, the second relay happens where the first sensory neuron
releases a chemical signal to a second neuron that it is connected to in
your spinal cord telling it that it senses pain. When the second neuron
in your spinal cord senses a pain response from the first neuron, the
third relay happens where the second neuron in your spinal cord releases
a chemical signal to a third neuron that it is connected to in your
brain, telling it that it senses pain. You perceive pain when your brain
senses this last relay from the spinal cord neuron.
Acute pain is short term pain when your body’s tissues are stressed or
damaged until the stress or damage to the body’s tissues subsides and
the tissues heal. Chronic pain is when your brain is constantly
subjected to that last relay in the pain pathway. This can be due to a
problem at any one of, some, or all of the three relay points. Either
the tissues can be constantly stressed and always releasing the pain
stimulus or any one of the three relay points can increase their
sensitivity to the point where they are sending signals back to the
brain regardless of whether or not there is a pain response at the
A common misconception regarding chronic pain is that people will think
or say that because the pain is in your brain, it’s not real or worse
that you are making it up. If you have chronic pain you are not making
it up, it is real, it is just not necessarily triggered at the body’s
tissue level. In order to mitigate or reverse chronic pain, you have to
correct the short circuit at the appropriate relay level (or levels).
At the tissue level, you need to stop excessively stressing and damaging
your tissues and help them heal. Give your body enough time to rest and
sleep to recover. Supply your body with more healthy foods for repair
and minimize exposure toxic foods and substances that damage your body’s
tissues. Spend more time with people you like and spend less time around
people that stress you out in order to put your nervous system in a
state that it can start to heal.
To address a problem with the relay between the tissue sensory neutron
and the spinal cord neuron, there are treatment options that can help.
As long as they are within your tolerance; exercise, manual therapy,
acupuncture, and gentle electrical stimulation can help to turn off the
pain signal at the spinal cord level and help to reset ideal sensitivity
levels of the first and second sensory neutrons.
When the problem is at the spinal cord-brain connection, it is the most
difficult to mitigate or correct. This is why medical doctors may
prescribe certain medications to help turn off the pain signals at the
brain level, but it’s not the only option. Meditation can be quite
effective at reseting the chronic pain loop at the spinal-cord brain
Similar to exercise, it takes a lot of work and mental focus to get
started with meditation but once you get into it and start seeing
results, it becomes a joy. Overcoming chronic pain is a multifaceted and
complex problem that takes a lot of work and often requires help from
multiple sources. It’s doable if you commit to putting in the time and
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