Transcript: Jennifer asks, there are many treatments and strategies to reduce pain in the body. Is it the chicken or the egg? Does a physical problem have to be resolved before pain mitigation or can a pain-reducing strategy somehow lead the way to healing?
That’s a good question, and it’s a very complicated question. Chicken or egg? Pain leads to its own issues in the body, including the brain. So the more pain you have, and the longer the pain is there, then the brain becomes part of the problem.
I was talking with somebody the other day about sleep. Does pain cause sleep problems? Yes. Do sleep problems cause pain problems? Yes. Do sleep problems make pain problems worse? Yes. Do pain problems cause depression? Yes. All of these go hand in glove.
Now, did the depression cause the pain problem? Did the sleep cause the pain problem? I would generally say no. Most of the time the pain problem is caused by something going on in the body that is usually related to inflammation, or damage, some kind of injury in the tissues. And by injury, I don’t mean a hammer falling on your toe. Injury can be toxicities, it could be burns, it could be radiation like sunlight, it can be cold, it can be heat. Anything that injures a cell or the tissue is an injury, and any injury can cause pain.
Obviously, if you burn yourself, you’re going to have a pain, and that’s an acute pain. It should go away in a few days, a week or two weeks, because the body will try to heal itself. Chronic pain means that the pain does not go away after three months. That’s an artificial idea because obviously if it’s not gone in a few days it’s chronic to some extent. But basically, if it’s been there for three months or more, it’s called chronic pain.
Generally speaking, does a physical problem have to be resolved before pain mitigation? Not always. I would say that if you can mitigate, you can remove the cause, if you can heal the tissue that’s causing the pain signal, it’ll heal. But if you have chronic pain for a long time, that pain signal can end up going into the brain, and the brain has a memory. Phantom pain is a perfect example of this. The cause of the pain is gone, the leg is gone. Now it’s possible that in terms of leg amputation, that the nerves in the area of the stump can still be irritated and they could still be sending signals to the brain enough to cause pain. But people who have phantom limb described the pain as an itching or a pain in a specific spot in the limb that is no longer there. It’s not at the stump, it’s in a part of the body that is gone.
So yes, the brain can have a pain signal memory that stays in the brain and that pain memory then is pain, because that’s your perception. So when you burn yourself, or you stub your toe, or you cut yourself, that signal is going to the brain and your brain registers it and says move your hand away from the hot stove, take the nail out of your foot, whatever. So if you removed it and the pain is still there, then it’s more likely to be a memory issue. In that case, where do you treat? You treat the brain. In the case of phantom limb pain, where are you going to treat? You can’t treat a part of the body that’s no longer there. You treat the brain.
Treating both of them makes some sense as well, especially in chronic pain. In a good part of the time with chronic pain, if you’ve got a disc problem, if you don’t get rid of the disc pressing on the nerve, you’re going to continue to have pain. If you have arthritis and you’re bone on bone, you have to remove the joint to get rid of the pain. You have to have a joint replacement. People who have joint replacements, 95% will tell you the pain is gone almost completely within a day or two days after the joint replacement. The cause of the pain has been removed. Will the brain still remember that pain? It’s a possibility. And if it does after your joint replacement, then you better be treating your brain as well.
PEMF therapies, and all the other things that we talk about in the pain solution summit – attitude, beliefs, guided imagery, meditation, relaxation, breathing exercises – all of these things can help to do that as well. I happen to use PEMFs a lot because it’s simple to do. So the question, can you resolve the pain problem if you remove the source of the pain? Often yes, most of the time, yes, but not always.
Now the question becomes do pain-reducing strategies lead the way to healing? Healing is a different question, I think, and it’s a very complicated issue. What’s responsible for the healing of the body? The body’s capacity to bring itself back into balance. That’s healing. Restoring the tissue to its natural state. That’s healing. Can the brain, the mind, cause healing? Absolutely. Again, if you have a nail in your hand and it’s still there, then all the work of the brain is not going to help you to remove the pain caused by that nail. It may dull it over time, but you have to remove the nail to remove the cause. But the brain can help the healing. I know people who have done hypnotic work, and hypnosis can cause healing in the body.
Nutrition is absolutely essential for healing. So even though the source of the pain is gone, the nail has gone from your hand, the hand has to heal itself. The body has to heal itself. But if you’re nutritionally really depleted, if you’ve just gone through chemotherapy and your nutrition is way, way off and you have a lesion, you have a cut or a wound, we know that with chemotherapy, wounds don’t heal well. Diabetes wounds don’t heal well. So all of the mind work that you do to try to help you to heal will help, but it’s not going to be enough. So you have to know how to combine these things and in what proportions to be able to do healing work. But I think ultimately, yes, the mind is critical to healing. Belief is critical to healing.
I know people have cured their cancers – 20 years later it’s still gone – through mind work, through spiritual healing work. So the mind is very, very powerful. You have to get yourself out of your own way. You have to disabuse yourself of any frustrations, any fear, any anger, to be able to have your mind really fully help to heal your body. We all have to work at that anyway.
As we get older, we have all kinds of aches and pains, creaks, and rattles. So again, the better the mindset is, then the more likely the body’s going to be able to ignore it. We see people regularly who have horrible looking MRIs – they should be screaming in pain and yet they don’t complain of pain at all. If you have the right attitudes, very often the perception of pain is decreased because you’ve quieted down the brain.
Chronic pain impacts the brain in a way that even small signals are more intense if you don’t help your mind to control your pain processes. An anxious brain will feel a small amount of pain that feels like a much bigger amount of pain, but a quiet brain may be able to essentially ignore a big pain versus a small pain. So obviously it could ignore small pain more easily than the big pain. So back to the MRI, there are people who have horrible looking spines and don’t feel pain. Well, maybe they’re in a better place mentally, they have less fear, they have less anxiety, they have less fighting going on in their lives. They’re more balanced. So again, you’re more likely to feel better with pain and live with it better if you have a more balanced life if you are a more balanced person in all the ways that you can be balanced.