Recent studies have shown that chronic back pain, neck pain, fibromyalgia symptoms, repetitive strain injury, headaches, and other forms of chronic pain are often not the result of structural causes, but of psychophysiologic processes that can be reversed.1,2,3 This is known as neuroplastic pain.
Pain is a danger signal. Normally when we injure ourselves, the body sends signals to the brain informing us of tissue damage, and we feel pain. But sometimes, the brain can make a mistake! Neuroplastic pain results from the brain misinterpreting safe messages from the body as if they were dangerous. In other words, neuroplastic pain is a false alarm.
Though the pain can be addressed psychologically, this does not imply that the pain is imaginary. In fact, brain imaging studies have demonstrated that the pain is quite real.4 Recent research has shown that pain is often the result of learned neural pathways in the brain.5 And just as pain can be learned, it can also be unlearned.
1. Castro WH, Meyer SJ, Becke ME, Nentwig CG, Hein MF, Ercan BI et al. (2011). No stress – no whiplash? Prevalence of ‘whiplash’ symptoms following exposure to a placebo rear-end collision. International Journal of Legal Medicine, 114, 316-22.
2. Bigos SJ, Battié MC, Fisher LD et al. (1991). A prospective study of work perceptions and psychosocial factors affecting the report of back injury. Spine, 16(1), 1-6.
3. Baliki MN, Petre B, Torbey S, Herrmann KM et al. (2012). Corticostriatal functional connectivity predicts transition to chronic back pain. Nature Neuroscience, 15, 1117-1119.
4. Derbyshire SW, Whalley MG, Stenger VA, Oakley DA. (2004). Cerebral activation during hypnotically induced and imagined pain. Neuroimage 23(1), 392-401.
5. Hashmi JA, Baliki MN, Huang L, et al. (2013). Shape shifting pain: chronification of back pain shifts brain representation from nociceptive to emotional circuits. Brain, 136(Pt 9), 2751-2768.