Neuroplastic Pain

Neuroplastic pain is a false alarm

Neuroplastic pain is also known as Persistent somatoform pain disorder

Neuroplastic pain is when pain symptoms are caused by learned neural pathways in the brain that are not due to ongoing structural damage or disease in the body.

The brain misinterprets safe signals from the body, as if they are dangerous, and as a result produces neuroplastic pain or other medical unexplained symptoms.

In neuroplastic pain, the fear factor fuels the pain to be created, amplified, and maintained post normal healing time.

Long after an actual injury has healed, fear can trigger the learned neural networks associated with the past injury and generate neuroplastic pain.

The majority of chronic (persistent) pain is neuroplastic pain, which is a maladaptive learned phenomenon - it is an unhelpful habit of the brain, which can be unlearned.

There are four main ways that neuroplastic pain can begin to develop:

1) An actual structural injury that has since healed

  • Neuroplastic pain can begin with a structural injury
  • The majority of physical injuries heal within a few weeks to a few months

General healing times are as follows:

  • Skin healing 2 - 4 weeks
  • Muscle healing 1-6 weeks
  • Bone healing 4 - 8 weeks
  • Tendon healing 8 - 10 weeks
  • Ligament healing 12 - 16 weeks
  • Spinal discs - 80% heal in 6 months

After an injury has healed the brain still maintains the neural pathways associated with pain. The fear factor fuels the pain to be amplified and maintained post normal healing time.

2) A perceived injury or belief that something is structurally wrong with the body

  • The fear factor fuels the pain to be created, amplified, and maintained
  • The primary fear that people with chronic pain is that something must be structurally wrong with their body that is causing their pain or symptoms to occur

3) Any adverse, stressful, or traumatic experience from childhood onwards

  • Any situation that can activate the danger circuits in our brain, which has the ability to create and maintain pain and other Psychophysiologic Disorder (PPD) symptoms.

4) Insidious onset

  • No definitive acute injury or perceived injury
  • No obvious adverse, stressful, or traumatic experience from childhood onwards
  • People with insidious neuroplastic pain commonly have the personality traits prone to self-criticism, worrying, and placing a lot of pressure on themselves
  • They are conscientious, people pleasing, perfectionists, prone to anxiousness, with brains on high alert, that feel emotionally in danger
  • When the brain feels emotionally in danger, it can trigger and maintain physical pain


What are the types of neuroplastic pain?

  • Back pain
  • Pelvic pain
  • Vulvodynia
  • Chronic abdominal pain
  • Interstitial cystitis (Irritable bladder syndrome / overactive bladder)
  • Neck pain
  • Whiplash
  • Knee pain
  • Patellofemoral syndrome
  • Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) syndrome
  • Chronic tendonitis (in any joint)
  • Piriformis syndrome
  • Repetitive strain injury
  • Foot pain syndromes
  • Myofascial pain syndrome
  • Amplified Musculoskeletal Pain Syndrome (AMPS)
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Migraines and Tension headaches
  • Trigeminal Neuralgia

Other symptoms or conditions that can be neuroplastic include:

  • Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) / myalgic encephalitis (ME)
  • Paraesthesias (numbness, tingling, burning)
  • Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
  • Dizziness
  • Persistent genital arousal disorders (PGAD)
  • Chronic cough
  • Spastic dysphonia
  • Chronic hives
  • Hypersensitivity syndromes (to touch, sound, smells, foods, medications)
  • Osteoarthritis (does not include rheumatoid conditions)
  • Insomnia
  • Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) / myalgic encephalitis (ME)
  • Paraesthesias (numbness, tingling, burning)
  • Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
  • Dizziness
  • Persistent genital arousal disorders (PGAD)
  • Inappropriate sinus tachycardia
  • Reflex sympathetic dystrophy (Complex regional pain syndrome)
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Gastritis
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS)
  • Inappropriate sinus tachycardia
  • Reflex sympathetic dystrophy (Complex regional pain syndrome)


What causes chronic pain?

Chronic pain is any pain that has lasted a long time - pain that might or might not be associated with any injury, tissue damage or disease, or that may persist long after tissues heal, or any underlying disease is treated (usually 3 - 6 months).

In chronic pain, changes occur in the way in which your nervous system interprets pain and other normal input or information. This is because your nervous system is not hard wired but capable of constant change.

This capacity to constantly change is known as neuroplasticity and sometimes these changes mean that your pain can become chronic and persistent, due not only to the neuroplasticity of your nervous system but other systems, including your immune and endocrine systems.

These neuroplastic changes in your nervous system cause and contribute to your chronic pain.


How do I know if my pain is neuroplastic?

Sometimes it can be difficult to distinguish between structural pain and neuroplastic pain.

Neuroplastic clues :

  • Symptoms are not related to any identifiable confirmed organ disease or structural damage (organic cause) and as such fall into the category of medically unexplained symptoms and/or the treatments you've been offered have only provided partial and temporary relief
  • Despite experiencing different persistent and troublesome symptoms and consulting with multiple healthcare professionals, you haven't yet received a clear diagnosis
  • You have been told you have multiple food allergies or sensitivities , but the treatment offered has either not worked or worsened your symptoms
  • You have been told your symptoms may be stress related or all in your head.

Symptoms that:

  • Persist long after an injury has healed (usually 6 - 12 weeks, but up to 6 months for spinal discs)
  • Are in a distribution pattern that is symmetrical
  • Occur on one whole side of the body or occur on half of the face, head, or torso
  • Spread over time to different areas of the body
  • Radiate to the opposite side of the body or down a whole leg or arm
  • That occur in many different body parts (multiple symptoms) and have different quality (e.g., headache and bloating)
  • That have the quality of tingling, electric shock, burning, numbness, heat or cold

Symptoms that are inconsistent and:

  • Shift or migrate from one location in the body to another
  • Are more or less intense depending on the time of day, or occur upon awakening or while asleep (variable intensity)
  • Occur after, but not during, activity or exercise
  • Occur when one thinks about them
  • Occur when stress is increased
  • Are minimal or non-existent when engaged in joyful or distracting activities
  • Are minimal or non-existent after some kind of therapy, such as massage, chiropractic, reiki, acupuncture etc (placebo response)

Symptoms that are triggered:

  • By things that are not related to the actual symptom, such as foods, smells, sounds, light, computer screens, menstrual periods, changes in the weather
  • By the anticipation of stress or actual stress
  • By simply imagining engaging in the pain triggering activity, such as bending over, turning the neck, sitting, or standing
  • By light touch or innocuous stimuli, such as the wind or cold

or

  • You may have certain Neuroplastic personality characteristics
  • You may have a history of chronic stress, depression, anxiety, and PTSD
  • You may have a history of Adverse Childhood Experiences or childhood adversity
  • Continuous or long-term stress can lead to health problems and make many physical conditions worse
  • In some people, stress alone can cause physical symptoms including neuroplastic pain


What is neuroplasticity?

Neuroplasticity refers to the brain's ability to learn from and adapt to different experiences.

It is a dynamic process of physiological (and physical) changes in our brains, that occurs as the result of our interactions with our environment.

A reorganisation of brain connections in response to our changing needs.

Our brains form new connections and pathways and rewire new circuits by reorganizing connections via structural remodelling—via so-called wiring and rewiring.

Neuroplasticity is essential for normal brain development; it helps create functional brain circuits and is the basis of learning.

This is why acquiring a new skill, such as speaking a language or playing a musical instrument, is much easier in childhood than in adulthood.

Young brains are much better at learning and adaptation.

The fundamental principles underpinning positive neuroplasticity include:

  • Focused attention
  • Consistent and repeated engagement
  • Determination
  • Hard work
  • Motivation and
  • Maintaining overall brain health

These are the neuroplastic on switches

Disengaged, inattentive, distracted, lazy brains mean your neuroplastic switches are off.

The use it or lose it principle.

Neuroplasticity is an activity-driven process.

The more something is practiced, the more neutral pathways are changed and strengthened.

The key is progressive brain plasticity-based learning and consistent internal mental rehearsal.

Every thought, feeling or action we engage in triggers thousands of neurones that join together to form neural networks.

The more we engage in a particular thought, feeling or action, the more we strengthen associated neural networks, the quicker signals can be processed, until eventually signals can be instantaneously processed.

Patterns of behaviour that are repeated become automatic, whereas patterns of behaviour that are interrupted dissipate.

This promotes learning-driven neuroplastic change - you brain remembers your best efforts, makes small changes, incremental adjustments and repetition of this process facilitates progressive improvement.

Neuroplastic pain is when the brain misinterprets safe signals from the body as if they are dangerous, and as a result produces pain via learned neural pathways.

This is an example of negative neuroplasticity.

If, once you have had all treatable organic causes of your pain excluded and treated and your pain persists or gets worse, then it is worth considering whether your chronic pain is actually neuroplastic pain.


This is a condition I can help you with

I have recovered from neuroplastic pain myself and developed ThePainRecoveryProgram as a result.

I am skilled in the diagnostic assessment of these conditions.

Make an appointment to see me for diagnostic assessment and advice regarding treatment options.