Treating Pain Using The Brain – Neuroplasticity

Treating Pain Using The BrainI attended a free public lecture on Wednesday night hosted by Arthritis Australia, the topic was, “Treating Pain Using The Brain”, presented by Dr. David Butler.
Anyone who has heard David present wouldn’t have been disappointed, addressing a topic with the potential for being a little tedious, he delivered his message in his trademark flamboyant, humorous fashion.
I believe Arthritis Victoria will be uploading this lecture to their website and I highly recommended those of you affected by, or treating persistent pain (chronic pain), to check it out.

Neuroplasticity – the brain & pain

If I can be so audacious as to summarise the key points:
1. Pain is not always a negative experience, it serves a purpose.

2. Sometimes it stays around for longer than we might expect, even after the point at which we would expect tissue damage to have healed. It becomes “persistent”.

3. Persistent pain is influenced by many factors in our lives, including the language we use to explain our pain. For example, “I’ve got an arthritic spine”, “my knee is worn out”, etc. It’s important to remember that many people with degeneration actually have NO PAIN and there are numerous studies to support this fact. Most people with degeneration don’t even know it, meaning degeneration may not be the cause of your pain.

4. This type of language can actually increase or prolong our pain by changing the wiring in our brain.

5. This wiring change can then result in experiencing pain in the absence of actual damage.

6. The WONDERFUL and REFRESHING thing is that we can rewire our brains and decrease and eliminate our persistent pain by obtaining a more complete and accurate understanding of our complaint and removing the negative language.

I understand that persistent pain is often a complex issue and I’m sure my summary hasn’t done David justice. So, I highly recommend visiting the Arthritis Victoria website and getting your hands on a copy of “Explain Pain” by David Butler. It might just change the way you think!

Pain getting you down?

Pain and our emotional state have a close relationship, with numerous studies demonstrating a higher incidence of depression in those suffering from chronic pain, than the general population.

Sometimes, ongoing pain is caused by a problem with the muscles, joints, nerves or discs (mechanical pain) and depression/emotional upset occurs as a result. However there are also times when our emotional state and nervous system can give rise to pain in the absence of a mechanical problem. I’m sure most us are familiar with the sayings:

  • a pain in the neck
  • a pain in the butt
  • a weight on my shoulders
  • it’s my Achilles heel
  • I feel hamstrung

Where do you think these came from?

While it’s common for mechanical pain and emotional pain to interact and coexist, one usually predominates.

If you have an ongoing pain complaint the first step is to identify whether it’s primarily mechanical pain or emotional pain.

If your pain is mechanical then your emotional response to it will be eliminated when the physical problem has been successfully treated.

If your pain is primarily emotional, identifying your emotional triggers and working through these, will be much more effective.

At times the line between mechanical and emotional pain can get a little blurry, leaving those suffering from ongoing pain in an uncertain place. In fact, you may not even realise that your pain and emotional upset are related.

Following a logical plan will help you get to the source of your problem.

Step 1.
A thorough mechanical assessment
In my opinion, this is best achieved by seeing a qualified   McKenzie method practitioner. The McKenzie method, otherwise known as MDT or Mechanical Diagnosis & Therapy, employs a unique set of questions in combination with thorough a series of repeated movements to identify whether  pain is of a mechanical nature or not.

MDT is an advanced area of training available to health    professionals who already hold a degree in health science.

For more on MDT visit or

Step 2.
When it’s emotional pain and the triggers are too overwhelming to deal with on your own or through talking to friends/family, you may need more skilled help.

Contact the Australian Psychology Society and ask for a psychologist who specialises in helping people deal with pain.

Please feel free to share this with anyone you know who experiences back problems.