Pain is not simply a debilitating message sent from the damaged or injured tissue to be accepted as it is, but a complex experience that is constantly tuned by the brain. Simply put, “there is no pain without a brain”. There are several studies that have proved that pain can be treated with the mind. In this article, learn how pain is controlled by the brain and how to manage pain. 


How Pain Can be Misleading?

Every individual has different threshold levels for pain, for some, even the slightest fall can trigger so much pain while a woman can easily breeze through labor pain to give birth. This is why it is important to not consider pain at its face value.

At its worst, the pain system can malfunction in several ways causing pain to be intense and chronic more than just a symptom. Injury and pain do not have to go hand-in-hand in all cases and yet everyone assumes that it should be.

Take this scenario for example – In 1995, the British Medical Journal published an astonishing report about a 29-year-old builder. He accidentally jumped onto a 15-centimeter nail, which pierced straight through his steel-toed boot. He was in such agonizing pain that even the smallest movement was unbearable. But when the doctors took off his boot, they faced a surprising sight: the nail had never touched his foot at all.


The Science Behind Pain

The old-school of pain science tends to believe that nerve receptors pass so-called pain messages to the brain and the brain then acts upon it to comprehend the signal and ends up believing the damage to feel pain. On the other hand, modern pain science neurologists believe in the two-way functionality of pain and that messages don’t just go up to the brain but also come down to the nerves, going back and forth.

Once a danger message arrives in the brain, it assesses the criticality of the situation based on every piece of credible information including previous exposure, knowledge, other sensory cues, cultural influences and more. It then sends a message downward that affects the sensitivity and behavior of the nerves.

Thus, pain could involve a conversation between the central nervous system and the peripheral nervous system. The brain has the capacity to amplify the signal – turn it down or even tell nerves how much of a signal to send in the first place. Several pieces of evidence state that the peripheral nerves can even change in response to the brain requests, tissue conditions or both.

Nociceptors are termed as the pain nerves that trigger the system’s protective response to harmful stimuli. Both biological factors and psychological factors amplify the nociceptive signals to the brain, helping us to experience the pain as it is.


How to Manage Pain?

A multi-pronged approach is essential to treat pain. If pain can indeed be controlled by the brain, it can be tapped to tackle pain rather than just taming the so-called pain nerves with drugs that cause more harm than good.


It’s All in the Mind

According to a book named Phantoms in the brain by a renowned neurologist VS Ramachandran, “pain is an opinion” on the state of health rather than a mere reflective response to injury. There is no direct hotline between the pain receptors to the pain center of the brain. He then details how he treated a man with phantom limb pain by creating an illusion using mirrors that the man’s amputated arm was restored. He felt better and his agonizing spasms were relieved because he thought he was better.


Body-Mind Approach

The cure for chronic pain, back pain and more can change for better with different coping strategies. Cognitive-behavioral therapy that increases the confidence and belief of the patient can be utilized to reframe the patient’s perception of pain. There is no need to physically use mirrors like above to create an illusion of wellness, simple measures that restore confidence and improve the brain’s resilience will suffice. Here are some:



  • Blow Your Pain Away


Traditional practices of meditation and pranayama can instantly create new feelings that the brain will ride along with and perhaps re-interpret the experience of pain.


  • Create New Social Contexts

Social experiences play a huge role in shaping the consciousness of the mind and by changing your social experiences, you can change your brain. A simple exercise of playing a team sport, attending experiential workshops and more can tinker with your social context.


  • Reduce Fear with Awareness

A confident and happy brain amplifies down danger signals more than an anxious brain. Seek out more information as you can find to educate yourselves more rather than just relying on fear-mongering advice. Acquiring knowledge and perspective should perhaps be the first line of treatment to manage pain.


  • Early Intervention is Critical

In order to prevent acute pain from transforming to chronic pain, it should not be ignored. The brain cells that produce pain reinforce the same pathway creating a vicious cycle of pain that becomes more sensitive to its slightest stimuli.


  • Change Something About How a Painful Area Feels

Classic examples of taping, bracing, strapping, splinting, salving, vibrating, icing and heating help to change how an affected body part feels. It can help to ease pain by creating a valuable sensory input or sensation communicating to the brain that all is well. Enable your body to feel protected, safe and stabilized to induce your brain to minimize the feeling of pain.


  • Don’t Dramatize Pain

Any positive movement that helps you go beyond your limit as comfortable as possible is another way to beat the pain module. Instead of worrying sick about it, try not to limit your movement. Pain should not limit movement, so push against those limits gently, creatively and painfully.


Conquer Pain with Your Brain

Treating pain should not just deal with physiological intervention, but also psychological intervention since it plays a major role in the perception of the pain. A positive sensory experience, education, and reassurance will help to alleviate pain and avoid giving patients any new cause for alarm or worry. The pain pathway can be altered to help you feel better with a holistic approach to treating pain.