Monday, February 22, 2021

What I Wish I Knew When I First Developed Chronic Pain

What I wish I knew when I first developed chronic pain

ID 28075777 © Konstantin Yuganov |

The International Association for the Study of Pain has offered the following definition of pain: “Pain is an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience…” Due to the opioid epidemic, more research has been looking at different aspects of pain. Having dealt with chronic pain myself for many years, research is bearing out what I learned firsthand.

Some of the most interesting research opening new vistas has been designed and run by physicians who themselves have become experts in chronic pain because their own chronic pain had not been relieved through any of the traditional methods. Below are some common misconceptions about pain and the research giving new conclusions.

Myth 1:  The intensity of the feeling of pain correlates to the seriousness of the injury.

This was first proven to be false in 1965 by Ronald Melzack and Patrick Wall by showing how pain is transmitted through gates.  However, many other studies have supported this, including studies with pain continuing after the area shows to be completely healed!  Some “individuals with functional pain syndromes report considerable anguish in spite of having no observable tissue damage”.

Myth 2:  Chronic pain is similar to “acute pain”.  (Acute pain is the original pain indicating a warning about a physical injury).

Neuroplasticity is both a blessing and a curse; “chronic pain is actually brain plasticity gone wild” according to Dr. Norman Doidge.
“Chronic pain often outlives its original causes, worsens over time, and takes on a puzzling life of its own. Chronic pain alters brain anatomy.” Says Clifford Wolf, pain researcher.   “Neurons have been re-wired in a way that exaggerates pain perception and perpetuates the experience of pain. Pain itself often modifies the way the central nervous system works, so that a patient actually becomes more sensitive and gets more pain with less provocation.”
So you could rightfully say, much of chronic pain is learned behavior.  Also, due to neuroplasticity, often chronic pain isn’t in the body anymore; it’s is in the brain.

Dr. Moskowitz, originally a psychiatrist, became injured and could not work due to his intense chronic pain.  For 13 years, he tried everything. Nothing helped.  Then, he learned about neuroplasticity and began studying the research. He analyzed the areas that fire in chronic pain, he observed that many of those areas also process thoughts, sensations, images, memories, movements, emotions, and beliefs when they are not processing pain. He realized why, when we are in pain, we can’t concentrate or think well and why we can’t control our emotions very well, become irritable, and have emotional outbursts. The areas that regulate these activities have been hijacked to process the pain signal.

Moskowitz defines chronic pain as “learnt pain”. It not only indicates illness; it is itself an illness. The body’s alarm system is stuck in the “on” position.

Myth 3: Drugs are the best way to deal with chronic pain

One of the most important revelations coming from Moskowitz’s work is that opioid narcotics, popular for treating pain, actually make pain problems WORSE because of neuroplasticity. The brain adapts to the opioid, becomes less sensitive to them and more sensitive to the pain, so the patient becomes more dependent on the drugs.
Given the evidence in his analysis, Moskowitz set out to reclaim the areas of his own brain that had been co-opted by the pain by retraining the brain and giving it something else to do.  He states that you must be ruthless when you notice pain by giving your brain something else to do. He became pain-free by changing his brain and then began a pain clinic in California. 
Myth 4: Changing the brain (neuroplasticity) is caused by a placebo effect (more belief oriented).
Moskowitz describes the difference between the placebo effect and neuroplasticity.  The placebo effect works fairly quickly and then its effects dwindle over time. But retraining the brain, utilizing its own plasticity is not a quick fix.  Neuroplasticity takes time to work.  Its effect actually increases over time, as long as one continues to train the mind; which is why a regular practitioner of meditation gains huge benefits.
A 2011 study at Wake Forest University showed that brain pain centers were 57% less active after just 4 days with a brand new practitioner of meditation. Subsequent studies have shown that long term meditators can show over 90% improvement from their pain. Leeds Beckett University, performed a study that showed meditation improved pain tolerance, pain threshold, and decreases anxiety towards pain. 
The Art of Ascension offers a simple practice of mechanical techniques to retrain the mind, similar in practice to meditation. It retrains the mind by giving it something that charms the mind, vehicles based on Praise, Gratitude, Love, and Compassion. 20 minutes with the eyes closed gives the mind and body more rest than sleep.  Since the body knows how to heal itself, this rest is a very powerful aid to healing what is causing chronic pain. 

The practice is unique in that you can do it anytime, anywhere. It can even be used during the day as you go about your busy life. I had a habit, common for those in chronic pain, called attentional hypervigilance for pain. In other words, feeling the repetitive need to “checkup” on the area that has experienced pain to see how it is doing. Research has shown that retraining the attention during experiences of pain have reduced sensitivity to pain.  Using the Art of Ascension practice with my eyes open throughout the day, allowed me to retrain my brain.  Rather than being consumed by pain, I found something more charming to do with my mind. Using the practice with the eyes closed began to rewrite those old programs. The practice replaced pain, fear, and quite a number of other habits that did not serve my life with Praise, Gratitude, Love, and Compassion.  Who doesn’t want more of that in their life?