Pain, Is It All In The Head?
Each day, all over the world, people rise from their beds to be confronted by pain. Often it is chronic and severe. They will reach for their pain pills and wait impatiently for relief to kick in. More often than not, the pain pills are opioids, and the relief they bring comes at a high price: feeling sedated, dizzy, nauseous, constipated and of course, the ever-present threat of addiction. This is a huge and pervasive problem in dire need of a better solution. It’s time to look at pain in a new way!
Two Parts To Pain
Let us break out of the box and look at pain through a new lens: that of a brain-centered neural phenomenon. Even though we may sense pain somewhere on the periphery of our body, it is registered in the brain. This means that the amount of pain that is physically experienced, can be greater or lesser than what one would expect from the actual body injury. So, consider that there are 2 parts to pain: the peripheral provocation and the brain’s final interpretation of it.
The most striking example of this duality is phantom pain syndrome, in which pain is felt in a limb that no longer exists! This is only possible because the initial injury left a traumatic imprint on the pain circuits of the brain - a pain ‘map,’ so to speak. This is, in fact, a pain memory circuit that becomes triggered in various ways. So, the amputee actually does feel pain in the lost limb - because the brain triggers a memory circuit once connected to the missing limb. In these cases, a unique technique using a ‘Mirror Box’ has been successful in remediating the experience, because it tricks the brain into sending signals along those dormant motor nerves. Once activated, the pain memory
can then reset back to normal. (MacLachlan, McDonald, & Waloch, 2004)
When pain is either intense or prolonged, the pain circuits in the brain can become hypersensitive, causing a condition known as central sensitization. (“Central Sensitization in Chronic Pain,” updated 2017) With each new stimulation, the pain circuit fires more readily and eventually, more powerfully. This pain becomes in fact, a memory circuit that is easily triggered. Chronic pain is actually a function of the brain’s natural plasticity gone awry - maladaptive plasticity. Sensitization occurs within all neural circuits, and it is at the root of many problems: pain, substance cravings, emotional reactions, allergies, etc. There is an emerging understanding that chromic pain is largely an encoded memory, and can therefore be treated this way. (“Teaching the Nervous System to Forget Chronic Pain — NOVA Next | PBS,” 2014) (“Chronic Pain May Be a Memory Problem,” 2016)
Treating Pain With Synaptic Plasticity
Since pain circuits become sensitized through maladaptive plasticity, it makes sense to treat them through a cortical circuitry route. A method known as RESET therapy involves introducing a disruptive stimulus while the sensitized pain circuits are firing, thus enabling the brain’s natural tendency to reset these circuits back to normal. This process is accomplished by utilizing a device known as the BAUD (Bio-Acoustical Utilization Device). The BAUD produces sounds at frequency ranges known to affect the brain, and this therapy method has proven effective at resetting even stubborn pain circuits.
A case which illustrates the significant impact of RESET therapy is that of Claus, a 70-year-old Swedish man, who was struck with an attack of Guillain-Barre Syndrome at the age of 45. For the next 15 years, he experienced severe (level 8) burning pain in both lower legs. His medication regimen consisted of daily oxycodone, morphine several times weekly, and occasional hospitalization for high-dose morphine when the pain became unbearable. After 3 RESET Therapy sessions using the BAUD, he went off his medications and has had pain levels in the 0-2 range ever since.
Other Types Of Pain
But, what about acute pain - say, post-surgical pain? The injury is fresh, and sensitization has not yet had a chance to set in. Yet, RESET Therapy has shown great efficacy with this type of pain also. Referring back to our phantom pain example, it seems obvious that some portion of the physical pain experience will be based on the brain’s interpretation. This ‘judgement’ will come partly through the amygdala’s reaction to the threat aspect of the level of discomfort. While the amygdala is mostly thought of as the seat of fear, it also has a multitude of nociceptive afferent connections. These are operational at an unconscious level at all times. Remember the last time you put your hand on a hot stove, and jerked it back - before you had time to think? Thank your amygdala for protecting you in this way.