Let's not focus on the pain, shall we?

                         Image: Vincent AF

                         Image: Vincent AF

Let's not focus on the pain, shall we?

So many patients are upset that they can't get a medical practitioner to give them a reason for their pain. The expectation is that every pain has a biomedical explanation. In fact this may be true, however, the biomedical function of the autonomic nervous system is often overlooked. The questions and answers below might help you to further explore this:

Might it help to change the way we look at chronic pain?

The premise behind Resolving Chronic Pain (in line with TMS / PPD*) is the neurophysiology of chronic pain. The aim is to recognise neural pathways that are not helpful to you and with the help of the Resolving Chronic Pain programme create new, more constructive neural pathways.

What is the neurophysiology of chronic pain?

The neurophysiology of chronic pain is about recognising the importance of the parasympathetic nervous system. It's ability to heal the body, and how this 'self healing' is obstructed by low grade stress. Stress activates the sympathetic nervous system stimulating adrenalin and cortisol to be produced and priming the body for 'fight or flight' synonymous with the stress response. When the body is in the stress response it cannot self heal and therefore the natural resolution of acute pain is delayed.

Stress and Fear

It turns out that the chronic pain may also be linked with fear, a close companion to stress. A key understanding of PPD is that issues the mind is reluctant to contemplate or might be deeply angry about, are expressed through pain in the body. 

Chronic Pain is difficult to pin down

“Pain has always been a bit of a puzzle” says Ben Seymour, a neuroscientist at the University of Cambridge. “Hearing or vision can be traced from sensory organs to distinct brain regions, but pain is more complex, and incorporates thoughts and emotions. For example, studies have linked depression and anxiety to the development of pain conditions, and volunteers put in bad moods have a lower tolerance for pain”.

Depression and Pain

The stress response can lead to depression in a cyclic way, negative thoughts activating the sympathetic nervous system. The chemical reaction of the stress response leading to too much cortisol, depleting noradrenaline and dopamine levels so energy is depressed, replaced by apathy and negative thoughts.

The autonomic nervous system is invisible

About a quarter of those with chronic pain who contact UK charity 'Action on Pain say that their doctors don't believe them. “The problem is that chronic pain is invisible,” says chairman Ian Semmons. It is understandable that someone in chronic pain might feel upset, and therefore have negative thoughts if they think their Doctor disbelieves them.

Biomedical Solution

A balanced nervous system may be the biomedical solution that both doctor and patient are looking for.


*Glossary of terms: TMS Tension Myositis Syndrome, PPD Psychophysiological Disorders

Reference: Brain signature of emotion-linked pain is uncovered Jessica Hamzelou, January 2015

Please see Mags Clark-Smith's CPI article explaining how the autonomic nervous system works

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