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Types of Pain and the role of the Brain

Pain may not be the most pleasant feeling, but it plays a very important function: it is the body’s way of signalling the brain that something needs attention (medical or otherwise).

We can picture that the brain is something like an old-fashioned telephone switchboard operator where sensory and pain messages are sent via a network of nerve fibres which run up the spinal cord. The “switchboard operator” controls which messages are prioritized and which ones rank lower in the priorities.

Types of Pain

There are different grades or types of messages:
• Acute pain (or short-term pain) – are messages that take precedence and are transmitted via A-fibres that travel much quicker than C-fibres. The pain felt from this type is sharp and specific and is usually felt right after an injury, accident or temporary illness. However, sensations like pressure, touch and vibration are transmitted via Special A-fibres which carry the fastest messages and take precedence over everything else. This is why rubbing or massaging an area creates a competing counter-stimulation and brings temporary pain relief.
• Chronic pain (or long-term/persistent pain) are messages transmitted via C-fibres that are generally not as specific as acute pain, and are usually spread out (e.g. soreness, throbbing, burning, itching, aching, cold, tingling and numbness). This type of pain occurs sometime after an injury or may be the result of a medical condition– but on some occasions, there may not be an obvious cause which makes finding solutions much more complicated.
• Neurological Pain or Neuralgia – this type of message goes from the brain towards the surrounding muscles instructing them to brace and guard in order to support and protect an injured area. The problem is when the muscles continue to brace and guard for long periods and start to cause muscle spasms, which can make pain feel worse.

How do we perceive pain?

We don’t perceive pain as either black or white (i.e. we are seldom either completely in pain or completely pain-free). Pain is a continuum, and we can experience comfort to a greater or lesser extent. However, there are always conscious and subconscious factors involved that can either help or worsen the pain sensations.

Within each of us is what we call “pain gates” (or “pain pathways”) and certain emotions (e.g. anxiety, worry, fear, etc.), our physical state (e.g. if we’re hungry or tired) and expectation can open them up, leaving people to experience greater levels of pain. Positive thinking, positive expectation, rest and relaxation can close these pathways or at least make them smaller so that the signal from a particular part of the body stops being transmitted up the spinal cord. When you’re relaxed, calm, rested, and feel in control, then you feel a greater sense of overall comfort.

Why use Hypnotherapy for Chronic or Persistent Pain Management?

Hypnotherapy for chronic pain management can help by getting you to do the things that stimulate messages sent even higher up this neurological hierarchy. In addition to A-fibres are neurotransmitters that you might have heard of; Serotonin, Noradrenaline, Endorphins and Encephalins. When we produce these, and especially when we do this consistently, the pain messages get interrupted. And the more we can then relax, the less additional muscle tension there is to add to the problem.

To achieve this we usually have to make changes in our thought patterns, habits and behaviours. Because much of this is actually subconscious, hypnotherapy can be a great tool for addressing these issues, as long as you are willing to make the necessary and sometimes small incremental changes, which can make all the difference.

What to do now?

Changes Welcome holds regular practice hours helping people with all types pain that is chronic or persistent in Bristol & Gloucestershire. To book an initial consultation get in touch today.