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.
Relatable… I have tried many avenues as well… this post also reminded me of the vagus nerve…. wishing you well!
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Nice article. Very interesting points. This is the way that I figure it. Pretty much you can get whatever you concentrate on. So concentrating on pain will give one more pain. Since all pain begins in the brain, it just makes sense that taking the brain focus off pain will help decrease pain. I’m ot a scientist nor medical professional, I’m better than that. Smiles. I am a person that has been relieving my pain for decades through using the arts, photography, videography, writing, and public speaking. What works, works. I do not suggest that anyone else do what I do. I’m just sharing an idea that works for me. Even if the arts do not take pain away totally, being creative and using creative arts can help bring pain down to a very manageable point. And using the arts, creative arts, fine arts, video art, is a wonderful way to relieve emotional pain and emotional control that happens to a person that is being bullied. Art is an amazing medicine! Merry Christmas and peace to all. ©lindaperry
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The idea of focusing on a pain free part of your body to relieve the pain reminds me of EFT tapping. Reading this gave me the epiphany of why tapping can be successful. It makes sense that tapping one part of your body while saying certain affirmations could take away the issue. The tapping is telling the brain to “go over here” and train the brain to re-pattern itself.
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Very interesting. I use therapeutic yoga practices to help people manage pain, and you have mentioned a number of the approaches we use. It’s so hard to think about shifting your attention away from the location of the pain, especially when it’s chronic, but it really can help. Thanks for sharing!
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I had to smile at your redirecting anecdote when it comes to pain. It gave me a flashback to when I was a young boy. My father once sat me down during one of my prolonged child-like “looking for attention” crying spells and asked me where it hurt. If I told him my leg (for example) he said he could fix it right away. Put your hand on the table he’d say and he’d raise his hammer (in jest of course!) Once I smack your hand with this hammer he’d say — you’ll forget all about the pain in your leg.
Of course he never did or never would, but after reading your post as a chronic pain sufferer myself I find mentally redirecting pain interesting. Still, not really sure how feasible this would be with true long-term chronic pain sufferers like myself. But it is food for thought!
Chronic pain sufferers each experience pain in their own unique way, so what works to ameliorate pain for one person may be completely ineffectual for another. All we can do is try different techniques and see if any of them make a real difference or not.
For me the main thing is to try to manage pretty severe chronic pain from neuropathy and arthritis without succumbing to opiods, something my doctors have offered from time to time.
I have an opioid addict in my family. She has struggled with chronic pain as well as mental illness since she was a child, and now, aged nearly forty, is addicted to heroin after being cut off by her doctors from fentanyl which they prescribed for many years until the medical board redefined allowable uses and amounts. She was cut of from the opioids without any real plan to wean her off them onto some other type of treatment. I’m not willing to go do that road, myself, and I’d rather die than live the way she is having to live.
So, for me, finding non-drub solutions is really important, and I have had some relief from some of the techniques I’ve discovered.
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I admire your resolve in staying away from Opioids Donald. An intelligent and potentially pro-life changing decision in my opinion. Here in Canada where Opioid pain-killers have been over-prescribed for years now its become a National health Crisis. I feel for your sister and what she’s going through as I too have fought that fight of opioid addiction (although her situation sounds much more dire than mine.) I went through hell getting clean but made it and am finally free from its evil hold on me. It was the hardest yet best thing I’ve ever done for myself. Your right Donald, avoid Opioids at all cost — Not getting started is the key.
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