Will My Chronic Pain Ever Go Away
We dislike pain. If we have an onslaught of pain, whether it be a throbbing toothache, a sharp sensation after stepping barefoot on an upturned plug or a stiff lower back after an intense day at work, we want to get rid of it as quickly as possible. It’s uncomfortable and makes us miserable. But our bodies are a marvellous creation and sending pain is one of the many amazing jobs the body does.
Purpose of pain
Pain has only one purpose and that is to serve as a protective mechanism. If you touch a hot stove you will immediately remove your hand due to the pain sensation experienced from the minor burn. If you are out running and sprain your ankle, the smarting pain will force you to cease the activity.
When such an injury occurs the pain receptors (nociceptors) at the site of the injury transmit signals to the brain via the spinal cord which essentially are saying “Ouch! I don’t like you. Go away!”. These signals travel to the thalamus in the brain which in turn issues further signals to other parts of the brain to be processed whereupon messages are returned to the site of injury and translated as pain.
This whole process obviously occurs in a split second, and thankfully that it does so that we can act quickly to protect ourselves. Through pain the body is sending you a clear message that whatever you are doing you must stop as it is harmful for you. Pain is a survival mechanism.
Acute v Chronic Pain
Acute pain can constitute sharp, sudden pain that lasts for moments or that which results from tissue damage and depending on the severity of the injury, lasts typically for anything around 2 weeks up to 3 months. It could be due to a sprain, broken bone, burns, cuts or infection. The pain is acting as a warning that healing needs to take place following the damage that occurred. Often it may be accompanied by heat, swelling and bruising in the localised area and responds well to a period of rest and/or compression and elevation. Pain medicine may or may not be required.
Sometimes , however, the pain may linger beyond 3 months and even into years which then becomes known as chronic pain. Many types of chronic pain include back pain, shoulder/neck pain, tension headaches, migraines, sciatica, pelvic pain, symptoms of fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome, to name a few.
This pain thing doesn’t all quite add up
We usually expect pain to settle down after an injury when the tissue has healed. But sometimes the brain continues to send out pain signals. It is not unknown for pain to disappear for months or even years after the injury has healed only to return later at the same site where the original injury occurred. Why would pain return to this location all of a sudden if the original injury has healed ? Your doctor may tell you that the injury did not fully heal even though years have passed by.
Other times, pain can erupt for no particular reason, you may suddenly just wake up one morning with it and attribute it to the wrong way you slept or the old mattress that needs replacing. Or your back goes out when you are bending over to tie your shoe lace or vacuuming or doing a spot of (relaxing) gardening or simply just getting in or out of the car.
Essentially, these constitute activities or tasks that you do ordinarily as part of your everyday life without any problem. So you might ask why the sudden onset of pain this time? Even more bewildering to the sufferer is when pain moves around the body for no apparent reason.
Neural Pathway Pain
Cutting edge neuroscience research has been able to shed some light on the above anomalies. We know that with acute pain the pain process originates in the brain when the danger alarm mechanism is activated which causes pain to be experienced as a protective mechanism. This involves the neural pathways from the brain being stimulated or “fired”. Eventually these neural pathways can become “wired” into the brain’s circuitry whereby the brain continues to switch on the pain in the absence of any tissue damage. Previous sites of tissue damage will retain the pain memory and in spite of the injury having fully healed, pain can be triggered in these (once weakened) areas when the danger alarm mechanism in the amygdala part of the brain is activated. This can occur when the brain is faced with a threat, both real or perceived, the latter including worry or negative thoughts and stressful situations.
As Dr Howard Schubiner states : “The nervous system learns to create chronic pain, even though there is no serious medical condition in the body, and even though any injury that may have precipitated the pain has long ago healed”. Our negative reactions to the pain with emotions such as anger, fear, frustration, worry etc combined with other stresses that accompany it - such as restricted movement, loss of freedom, insomnia, perhaps decreased income - only serve to reinforce the pain pathways. Faced with these stressful situations the brain responds by producing more pain.
Consequently, these nerve connections between the brain and body end up becoming overly sensitised. A vicious cycle of pain then develops which has been “learned” by the nervous system: pain causes fear/anger/worry which in turn creates more pain.
Stress and chronic pain
An increasing body of evidence from studies demonstrates the impact of stress upon chronic pain. The ACE Report (Adverse Childhood Experiences)  found how toxic stress in childhood can alter brain development and impact upon the body’s ability to handle stress in adulthood. These childhood experiences can include violence, abuse, being raised by caregivers with mental health issues, parental divorce or death of a parent. It is now known that children that grow up feeling unsafe when exposed to challenging situations can end up developing an over-sensitised nervous system. This can pre-dispose such children to developing stress-related illnesses during adulthood, including chronic pain.  Studies have also shown how abnormal levels of the stress hormone cortisol due to unresolved or ongoing stress can also pre-dispose individuals to chronic pain.
One way to reduce the impact of this is to understand the seriousness of chronic stress upon our health and to take steps to manage our stress levels. My blog on The Effects of Stress and How to Cope provides some tips on how to manage ongoing stress.
Neuroplasticity: hope for recovery
The good news is that chronic pain that develops due to learned neural pathways can be potentially reversed and thus a sufferer can become pain free. Even if you have had chronic pain for years it is possible to become pain free, as thousands of sufferers have borne testimony to this.
There is a growing professional industry comprising Mind Body Practitioners that are successfully helping sufferers of chronic pain to become pain free. It is now understood that the brain is ‘plastic’ and can continue to develop new, healthy neural pathways that can influence healing. Due to neuroplasticity, it is possible to recover from chronic pain. Through application of tools and strategies embedded in Mind Body Medicine, it is possible to ‘unlearn’ these conditioned pain pathways causing the pain to persist and replace them with no pain pathways.
Once all necessary tests have ruled out any serious condition that could be causing the pain, then it is very likely the pain is owing to conditioned neural pathways which can be reversed.
However, in spite of this welcoming enlightenment from developments in neuroscience, the vast majority of conventional doctors still do not acknowledge how inextricably linked the mind and body are, hence the epidemic in chronic pain that exists today. It is both frustrating and disconcerting to witness the growing number of people needlessly suffering from chronic pain, some even resorting to surgery which could be avoided, not to mention the massive drain on the NHS.
So there is a chance I could get better from my chronic pain?
If you are reading this and asking the above question, the answer is yes! Yes there is hope for millions of people to be freed from their chronic pain, no matter how long the pain has been there. But it depends on the underlying cause of your pain. Here are some questions to ponder as a starting point:
Have you had all the necessary medical tests and scans carried out to rule out a clear pathology in the body such as cancers, tumours, fractures etc.?
Do you observe anomalies in your pain: it changes in levels of intensity? It comes and goes? It moves around the body for no apparent reason?
Have you tried all the other alternative therapies and nothing seems to make a difference to your relentless pain, or the pain is temporarily relieved only to return later, often during times of stress?
Are you willing to embrace an unconventional yet evidence-based approach to free yourself from your pain and start living your life again?
If you have answered yes to all the above then it is possible that you are suffering from neural pathways pain and thus potentially can be freed from your chronic pain. If you are unsure as to which way to proceed, then why not book a free up to 30 minute Consultation to find out more about my Pain Free Programme and how it may be able to help you: Click here to book your free session.
Shaheen Jaffary is an Advanced Reflexologist and Mind Body Practitioner specialising in chronic pain after she herself recovered from 21 years of intermittent debilitating back pain and sciatica via Mind Body Medicine, despite being told back surgery was her only recourse . She is now passionate about helping other chronic pain sufferers to become pain free and recover their life. For further information please see www.leedsholistichealth.co.uk.
 Schubiner, H. and Betzold, M., Unlearn Your Pain. Mind Body Publishing, 2019
 Known as The CDC-Kaiser Permanente Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study, this was conducted at Kaiser Permanente from 1995 to 1997 involving the completion of 17000 confidential surveys with two waves of data collection.
 Anda R.F., Felitti V.J., Bremner J.D., Walker J.D., Whitfield C., Perry B.D., Dube S.R., Giles W.H. The enduring effects of abuse and related adverse experiences in childhood: A convergence of evidence from neurobiology and epidemiology. European Archives of Psychiatry and Clinical Neuroscience. 2006, 256: 174-86.