We'd never tell you that the pain you are feeling in is all in your head. But did you know the pain you are feeling is all in your head?
Wait, wait... before those eyes start rolling and you delete us from your friends list, keep reading!
What we mean is, if you have had an injury (for example - a sprained ankle or strained your lower back), if there has been actual physical tissue injury, these little sensors called 'nociceptors' are activated, and send signals to your brain that something has gone on. These sensors are not actually pain receptors! Pain comes because our brain then receives this information from these nociceptors, and determines if a painful experience would be beneficial for you.
Why would pain ever be beneficial? Pain can be a helpful sensation so that you don't cause yourself further injury. It’s your bodies way of telling you something is wrong, and to possibly slow down. Even though we tend to perceive the feeling of pain as being negative, your body actually always has your best interests at heart.
But what would happen if your brain was unable to send and receive these signals appropriately? Could it be possible that your brain could misinterpret what is actually happening? This can and does happen, and is one of the theories behind things like chronic pain conditions.
What we know is that nociceptors can fire and there be no pain response (think of trauma victims who feel nothing even though mass tissue injury has occurred) and pain signals can also be fired when there is no nociceptor activation (tissue injury). The two can and do occur separately.
Which essentially means, that pain is a construct of your brain, whether there is injury or not. Wowza. Men, I would never tell this to a woman in labour (for obviously reasons, namely your safety! You’re welcome.)
Scientific studies have also shown us that how we perceive our pain can actually impact how much pain we feel. For example, it has been shown that if groups of people are in pain are asked to focus solely on their pain or interpret that their pain is overwhelming and unmanageable, they actually do feel significantly more pain than the groups who were asked to focus on something else, such as diaphragmatic breathing or adopting a different set of beliefs about their pain.
The reality of peoples’ pain can be debilitating, and I’m certainly not making light of this and telling you that if you just think of daisies you won’t feel a thing. I’m merely trying to explain some of the interesting science as to how your brain seems to work.
What we also know is over time, if pain signals continue to fire, your brain can actually ‘learn’ to sense pain as a strategy, much in the same way you learn to read or ride a bike. Neuroscience calls this mal-adaptive plasticity.
What a chiropractor does is look for the areas in your spine where your brain and body might be mixing up those signals. We aren’t actually chasing the pain. And science backs up that when a spinal segment is not moving in the way that it should, it seems to influence how the brain perceives and responds to sensory information (such as pain).
This is one of the reasons that adjusting the spine can be so beneficial for your brain.