Some kinds of chronic pain are kind of a mystery to our doctors, to our families, and to ourselves. I’ve suffered from truly awful chronic pain for a long time. I’ve been to doctors all over the map, been diagnosed with practically a bajillion different diagnoses and I’ve tried all kinds of different treatments and medications. And I’ve still been in pain, and the truth is, my doctors really don’t seem to know why. In recent times I’ve started to learn some new ways of thinking about and handling my chronic pain. If you feel like you have tried everything under the sun to try to deal with your chronic pain, with no real answers in sight, I’d like to offer some ideas and resources and possibly a little bit of different thinking for you.

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Neuroplastic Pain

Before we get started with some of the interesting ideas that I want to share with you, I’d just like to remind the reader that I am in no way a medical professional. What I’m sharing is not meant to diagnose or treat any medical condition. If you find that anything here resonates with you, do more reading and/or take this information to your medical professionals and follow up with them.

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.

Pain Reprosessing Therapy, NEUROPLASTIC PAIN

Learning about neuroplastic pain has been one of the most eye-opening experiences for me. I started learning about it because of my physical therapist. One day I was telling her that because I deal with such terrible pain in so many different places in my body I was having a hard time following the suggested at-home therapy routine.

My physical therapist was a gem and she recommended that I read a very short book (it’s really a workbook) called “Why Do I Hurt? – A Patient Book About the Neuroscience of Pain” by Adriaan Louw. It is a very simple book. It makes this topic super easy to understand, and I highly recommend it to anyone living with chronic pain.

After I read that book, I got super interested in the topic of the neuroscience of pain, so I searched other books and YouTube videos that explained all of this. There are a multitude of resources (a simple search on YouTube will yield hundreds of results on the topic). Dr. John Sarno was one of the vanguards in the understanding of neuroplasticity and pain (watch a 20/20 segment from years ago with him here). The best book I read on the topic, though, was “The Way Out: A Revolutionary, Scientifically Proven Approach to Healing Chronic Pain” by Alan Gordon.

Since I am not a doctor or scientist, I hesitate to give you my own explanations, so I am just going to recommend that you do your own reading and research on this topic. There has been a lot of research and advancements in this field within the last 10 years or so. There is a lot of great information out there.

Central Sensitization

Notably, in recent years, the field of pain research has uncovered a great deal of information about underlying physiological causes of chronic pain. This new wealth of information is especially relevant to chronic pain patients because it demonstrates that for many, their pain is not imagined, but rather caused by sensitization of the nervous system due to physical changes in neurons, the cells that make up the nervous system and play a key role in sensation. When neurons responsible for sensing pain become sensitized, it means that they sense pain in situations where they previously would not have

 Beatrice Awasthi Sensitization: Why everything might hurt when it looks like nothing is wrong

As I began focusing a little more deeply on neuroplastic pain, I was able to find out even more information. I found this really great video from Dr. Andrea Furlan about something called Central Sensitization. Rather than try to summarize her video, I’ll just share the video here and you can watch it for yourself.

This video helped me to better understand the pain I have been experiencing, especially since the small strokes I suffered several years ago. I’ve only recently found out that strokes can be one of the precipitating events for central sensitization. I think I’ve dealt with some version of neuroplastic pain for most of my adult life, but the chronic pain I’ve been living with for the last few years has been very intense and worse than what I’ve dealt with in the past. I believe, for me, central sensitization explains what I’ve been living with very well.

Why Am I Telling You About These Things?

Since I’ve been dealing with all of this pain for so long, I was mightily interested and even relieved to find an explanation. The best my most recent doctors came up with is Fibromyalgia, and nerve pain from the disc issue I had operated on a little more than a year ago. As it turns out, the medical and scientific community has updated their explanation of Fibromyalgia since I was first told that is likely what I had, more than 20 years ago. It is more understood as likely a central sensitization condition today. So, understanding neuroplastic pain and central sensitization a little better has not only helped me, on the face of it, to reduce my pain at times, it has also helped me to choose treatment options that are more likely to help than what used to be offered (and sometimes still is) for that disorder.

I was in a tremendous amount of pain when I first learned about neuroplastic pain. I was searching for anything that could possibly relieve it, even a little bit. Watching that Dr. Sarno video, reading articles and books, and watching other videos, to my infinite surprise, actually pulled me out of the most acute part of the pain I was experiencing.

The truth is, that can well be part of the treatment of chronic pain. Just learning and relearning and training your brain to understand that there isn’t actually any real danger happening can start to relieve some of the most acute pain.

After I got over that bout of acute pain, I kind of stopped reading and watching and learning more. I did okay for several months. And then I got hit with a whole new round of acute pain. And then I found Dr. Andrea Furlan’s video (and more videos from her), and some of the pain eased again.

After that, I started to actively seek some different resources, hoping I could find ways to rewire my brain and nervous system to be less sensitive to pain.

Out-Of-The-Box Ideas to Relieve Chronic Pain

Most medical treatments suggested by doctors for Fibromyalgia or chronic nerve pain are pharmaceutical. For instance, I take Cymbalta and Gabapentin, and Celebrex. These are all medications meant to target my neuroplastic pain or central sensitization and nerve pain. They help to some degree. A lot of people still take opioid medications for chronic pain, but research is showing that those drugs, besides being wildly addictive, can actually contribute to the worsening of chronic pain.

I’ve also been told to exercise. I think it is a valid treatment, but when you are dealing with chronic pain, it seems like a lot of exercise only exacerbates the pain. It can be a little tricky, but with a strong desire to find something that will work for you, it can be done. I’ve found that water walking is especially helpful to me, as is using a “vibe plate” or whole body vibration.

So, what else is there? Beyond holistic health options like acupuncture, energy healing, and the like (which is a topic for a different time), I’ve looked at multiple different ideas and options. I think there are so many out-of-the-box ideas that someone could find helpful. Some I’ve tried and some I know wouldn’t work for me for other reasons, but I’ll share several ideas and then tell you about the treatment I am currently pursuing.

  1. Curable App This is an app that helps you learn about the neuroscience behind chronic pain and gives you exercises and meditations to do to start rewiring your brain. I’ve used this app and think it is a very good sort of DIY treatment idea.
  2. Pain Coaching and DIY Pain Coaching Videos It is being shown that coaches that specialize in chronic pain can help patients to reduce their chronic pain. I’ve found some great resources on YouTube, too, that you can start to work through your chronic pain with. One of my favorites is Pain Free You but there are many different ones out there that you can find with a search.
  3. Talk Therapy and Trauma Therapy Sometimes neuroplastic pain can be caused by past trauma. Depression and anxiety also walk hand-in-hand with chronic pain. Seeing a therapist can really go a long way to helping you to find relief from chronic pain. In today’s technological world, it’s easier than ever to access treatment.
  4. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy This can typically be provided through a regular therapist, but you may also need to find one that deals specifically with chronic pain. CBT can absolutely be a big help in relieving chronic pain, especially pain that is neuroplastic or caused by central sensitization. There are even some programs that are more geared to DIY at home through apps and books, etc.
  5. Ketamine Therapy There have been a lot of advances in the acceptance of the use of the drug, Ketamine, to treat chronic pain. There are a lot of online treatment programs, but honestly, I think it is smarter, with a heavy-duty drug like this, to do in-person treatment with a qualified medical and/or psychiatric doctor. But, the good news is that it is getting so mainstream now that even Medicaid will pay for this treatment in some places.
  6. TMS or Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS)  This is a relatively new treatment and as far as I know, it is not yet covered by Medicaid. It is an expensive treatment, but if your insurance will cover it, there is burgeoning evidence that it can greatly reduce or even eliminate chronic pain.
  7. Biofeedback and Neurofeedback Biofeedback has been around for a long time, but it has gotten more sophisticated. Neurofeedback is a cousin of biofeedback, but instead of you doing the work, your brain does it. Biofeedback and neurofeedback have both been showing promise to help with chronic pain. They essentially help you to rewire the brain to reduce the pain signals and dampen central sensitization.

What Am I Doing and What Should You Do?

As I’ve mentioned, I’ve been using medications, exercising where I can, and learning a lot about chronic pain, all of which have helped me to at least make my chronic pain bearable, for the most part. But it hasn’t gotten to a level that is truly livable for me. So, I decided to look into some of the out-of-the-box ideas.

For me, in my situation with insurance and money, and because of other factors about my personality and ability to do certain things, I landed on neurofeedback. I literally just started this process. It’s a commitment. I had to agree to at least 40 sessions. But I absolutely believe, deep down, that it is going to help my pain, a lot. I’ve seen the power of rewiring your brain. I’ve done it (with other modalities) with depression and anxiety and trauma issues, and I fully believe that it will help with chronic pain, too. I’ll circle back to let you know the results, a little further into the actual treatment.

If you are dealing with chronic pain, there is a good chance there is at least a component of it that is due to neuroplastic pain or central sensitization. Of course, every body is different, and there may well be an ongoing physical reason for your pain, and if that is the case, you probably already know that you’ll need to work with your doctors to address those physical causes. I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that even if there is a known physical cause for pain, addressing the neurology of the pain can help to at least reduce the amount of it you are feeling.

I think that any of the above treatments could potentially be helpful to anyone suffering from chronic pain. It’s important to involve your doctors and/or therapists in any discussion about treatment alternatives. But equally important is knowing yourself, knowing what you are willing to do and what your own bodily wisdom is pointing you toward. Spend some time at the links I’ve provided above, reading about different treatment options. If something stands out to you, take that information further and see if you can’t give it a try.

Chronic pain and solving the mystery of it can be a long and difficult road to be on. I hope that you find something in what I’ve shared that might help you to find some peace and relief.

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