Brain Space of Sensory Strip = Amount of Neuron Cells = Sensitivity
Here is an image of the sensory strip. The view point is as if you are looking at a person’s face, right into this particularly cross-section of their brain. The body drawing on the outside demonstrates the region of that strip that is typically devoted to sensations from those body parts. Thus, you can see just how weird the proportions really are with very large face and hands compared to everything else! When we introduce this skill we also choose to add the option of a focus on the feet. Although the sensations from the feet don’t take up a huge amount of brain space, they are are still proportionally larger and on such a different part of the sensory strip that it can really move the attention away from other painful parts.
Lessons from this week’s lesson
In this week’s lesson on managing pain, I learned some new concepts about how pain functions in the brain, as well as on how to take something I already knew, and provide a better and more purposeful way to use it to reduce my experience of pain in my body.
The main points of this lesson are as follow:
- Pain is experienced in the brain, after information is sent to the brain through neurons transmitted through the spinal cord.
- Passively attending to something in your body, other than the pain, will reduce the experience of pain to some degree or other. Sometimes this reduction in the experience of pain is significant, sometimes not.
- Actively creating a mechanical distraction, especially in the area of the body which is experiencing the pain, can have a positive effect on that pain.
- Interestingly, by creating a mechanical action, such as shaking your hand if you injure a finger or burn yourself, will reduce significantly the amount of pain actually experienced, by actively reducing the signal from the pain receptors in getting to the brain. This takes place in the spinal cord itself, rather than in the brain, so the reduction in the pain can be very effective.
Now, lets stop thinking about the theory of pain, and think about what the theory of pain is teaching me. If I can move my attention from focusing on a specific cause of pain to focussing on some other part of my body, such as my face or ears, for example, I can significantly reduced my experience of the pain. This reduction is my experience of pain is relatively mild, for me, at this point, but it serves to reduce my experience of neuropathic pain from excruciating to merely troubling, a huge gain since when it is only troubling I can often drift off into sleep, which is nearly impossible when my neuropathic pain in my feet is most extreme.
Through practice and the investment of some time I hope to increase the effectiveness of this pain strategy, which holds out some promise in being an active tool to improve my current experience of pain.
The second strategy in this chapter of the course on Mastering Pain, is about a more physically active method, and requires some mechanical actions to be taken. So, when the pain in my hands or feet is most severe instead of mentally focussing on another part of my body, I use an action to draw my attentions elsewhere. This action can be pretty simple, such as playing with my car keys or making a cup of tea, and really paying attention to what I’m doing, rather than dwelling on my neuropathic pain.
You’d be surprised at how often this helps reduce the experience of pain, sometimes by a lot, depending on how absorbing the actions being taken are, and depending on how seriously I focus on them.
Before I started taking this program I think I intuitively already knew some of this information, without knowing the underlying physiology of the spinal cord and the part of the brain responsible for experiencing pain.
A significant part of the benefit of taking this program is the development of a more organized and deliberate strategy for dealing with my everyday pain, in ways that improve my experience of life through my own conscious efforts, without taking opioids or other pain killers to deal with the pain. A major goal of Mastering Pain is to create a Personal Toolbox of resources to assist with what has become a major preoccupation of my life, the toleration and management of chronic pain.
For me, the alternatives to doing this program seem few and very unattractive. I have no willingness to go down the road of pharmaceutical solutions for my pain, unless I absolutely have no choice, in order to tolerate the ever increasing amount of pain in my life. It may be that at some point I won’t be able to function, whatsoever, without pain medications, but I intend to push that day off as long as possible.
Note on formatting
Up until this week I was using a Drop Cap for the first letter of each paragraph in my blog. I recently received feedback from a mobile reader, using her cell phone, that said that the Drop Caps were screwing up her ability to follow my blog, by throwing text all over the place, when viewed on her phone. So I’m not going to use them in this blog from now on.