If we can understand pain signals and the healing mechanisms at work when we feel pain, we can begin to understand how the protective mechanisms of the body can often become overprotective. Pain has a “threat value” that on a primitive level seeks to insure our survival. Yet, the threat sticks around often long after the injury itself has healed. Like a car alarm run amok, the alarms start ringing even at just the THOUGHT of doing an activity.
In the book Explain Pain (ISBN 0-9750910-0-X), authors Butler and Moseley take us through the mechanisms of pain. They describe how thoughts and beliefs are nerve impulses, too. Our human ability to identify a situation as potentially dangerous is all very well and good, but when the system is really sensitive (as it is in chronic pain), inputs unrelated to tissue damage (but judged by our brain as dangerous) can be enough to cause pain. This can happen without you even being aware of it!
Many patients have told us that ‘it hurts if I think about it.’ This is completely understandable. You are not crazy. In fact, this is very sensible if you remember that your brain has learned to be very good at protecting you from anything that might be dangerous to your tissues. Thoughts…are threatening to the brain concerned with your survival. These thoughts and fears of certain activities, or a fear of reinjury, can increase pain. Thoughts are nerve impulses.
Through scientific research, we are now aware of the thought processes which are powerful enough to maintain a pain state. We call them ‘thought viruses.’ Some of the most powerful thought viruses that are known to cause and enhance a low back pain experience (and probably pain experiences anywhere in the body) are:
“I’m in pain so there must be something harmful happening to my body.”
“I’m staying home, not going out, I’m keeping quiet and out of things.”
“Even their whiz-bang scanning machine can’t find it—it must be bad.”
“We can put a man on the moon, why can’t someone just fix this pain for me.”
“I’m so frightened of my pain and injuring my back again that I’m not doing anything!”
“I’m not doing anything until all the pain goes away.”
Almost anyone that has spent months or years in chronic pain understands how easy it is to have such beliefs. Long after the healing of tissue is complete, our survival system can be highly tuned to even the slightest impulse of pain from the previously injured system. We overreact in fear. The body braces, protects, and even shuts down. Any pain that “reminds us” of the old injury also triggers the emotional fears still engraved in our energy system.
This is where EFT can make a huge difference in quality of life. Pain itself is simply a signal. What I see is that EFT can help take the fear out of the pain. Sure, there may still be pain present, but with EFT it often reduces to what I’d call a “truer baseline.” It stops being amplified unhelpfully so it is not triggering excess stress. This helps the body to heal, too, as stress/fear hormones are not conducive to deep healing.
The authors go on to list additional fears that they see in their patients, fears that are tied to a threat to our livelihood as humans. They state, “Remember, in persistent pain, when the alarm system and brain are sensitized, all of these fears can help maintain the pain by activating pain ignition nodes in the brain, and set up the ochestra to play the pain tune. Remember that the brain wants to protect you from anything that is dangerous.” Including thoughts! Here is a partial list:
I have a fear of:
The seriousness of the cause of pain.
Not being believed.
Not being compensated.
Re-injuring or making it worse.
Slowing the healing.
Not being able to work.
Not having an income; not having any money.
Not playing with the kids.
Not being able to have kids.
Not being able to keep the house clean.
Not being able to have sex.
Not playing sports ever again.
Cracking up (nervous breakdown).
Looking bad; becoming overweight.
Ending up in a wheelchair.
Driving; not being able to drive.
What others think.
Getting divorced; staying single forever.
Therapy; needles; surgery; botched surgery.
Each of these is a candidate for an EFT setup statement:
“Even though I have this fear of not knowing, I choose to be calm and confident.”
“Even though I fear what others think of me, I deeply and completely accept myself.”
“Even though I know they don’t believe me, I’m okay anyway.”
If you are in chronic pain, know that there are many coping strategies that don’t require that we live in constant fear of our pain. We can also learn how to gradually reintroduce the body/mind to activities we find enjoyable, while using EFT to address those fears we have in advance and when they crop up during the activity itself.
Let me add another observation from this book. The authors believe as I do that education and understanding are a primary step in pain management. They suggest that “know pain, or no gain” is highly effective as we recover and return to an active life. They caution against the “no pain, no gain” approach of blindly pushing through pain barriers. Some discomfort is probably necessary. Understanding pain helps you know that which is helpful.
They also counsel that the “let your pain be your guide” approach for people in chronic pain is also not useful. If you were to let pain be your guide, you would do nothing. Sure, it may be of some use when you have acute pain so that you don’t interfere with the healing process—but even in that situation you will not usually avoid pain altogether. To let pain be your guide usually means that you are giving into pain, making it your master, encouraging you to be fearful of it.
They recommend the third way: Understand pain so that you don’t fear it. Learning about pain physiology reduces the threat value of pain. Combining pain physiology education with movement approaches increases physical capacity, reduces pain, and improves quality of life. You can end up, at the end of your journey through chronic pain, with a deeper understanding of how your brain, body, and emotions work that can serve your well for the rest of your long (and thriving!) life.