The brain. Can the brain cause pain? I often hear that clients have been told by a doctor or practitioner that their pain is between the ears. I myself also got this thrown at my head when I was still walking around with chronic back, neck and shoulder pain. And it is not really nice to hear, because you feel so misunderstood and alone when it is said. Your pain is really there! Only they can not find where it is coming from so they say that there’s nothing wrong and that it is between your ears!
Hmmm so between the ears? Okay, your brain is between your ears in terms of location. Can the brain cause that pain?
Well technically, the brain controls everything in your body, in your brain is your control center, nothing in your body will work if your brain does not control it. So yes in that regard EVERYTHING starts between your ears. If you extend your arm forward now, it will also start between your ears. Your brain sends a signal to your arm muscles to extend your arm. But well, you experience pain in your neck, shoulder or back, not in your brain. But can it be that the brain gives a signal to your neck/shoulder/back/…. to produce that pain? As I just said “nothing will work in your body if your brain does not control it”, so it is not possible to feel pain unless the brain first signals the body to feel pain in a certain place.
When you break your leg, the damaged area activates nerve cells to send signals of distress to the brain. These distress signals are received in the automatic, subconscious areas of the brain for very fast processing. But so no pain is felt until the brain interprets this information and decides that somehow pain would be helpful! Then, if the brain decides this applies, pain is produced from the brain to where the bone is broken. So pain is a response of the brain to a signal of danger. The actual pain experience is in the head, not the body.
Or maybe you have also heard of: “it is not your eyes that see, it is your brain that sees” or “you look with your eyes, but see with your brain”.
The brain just does everything. Without a brain, nothing else happens, zero, nada.
The brain eventually decides whether or not you should be in pain. ALL pain is produced by the brain. No brain, no pain.
Pain is real though! So your pain really exists. So it is not between your ears like as in “you are crazy and see things that are not there”. The pain is definitely there! It is only true that the brain is the one that makes you experience this pain. It is NOT the tissue (such as the muscle or bone, for example) that provides this. Pain does not equate to tissue damage. And also the amount of pain is not equal to the amount of damage or whether there is any damage at all. Pain is an experience.
So to come back to when you break your leg, for example, the brain produces pain where the fracture is. The brain does this for a reason. The brain does this to prevent you from walking on your leg. Because suppose you didn’t feel any pain from that fracture, you would just keep walking with it. But if you just kept walking with it, the bone might break even further and damage your bone tissue even more! So the brain sees that as a threatening situation and it wants to protect you from that situation. So it creates that pain, forcing you to slow down so that the body can heal the area before you’re going to use it again. Imagine that you would never feel or experience pain, you would never know if something was damaged in your body and you would not realize it if you damage yourself further. So the production of pain always has a function, pain is functional, it is for protection.
By the way, this is a completely unconscious and automatic process, just like breathing and pumping blood through the body.
Nevertheless, in this way the mind and body are inter alia connected. Like I said; no brain, no pain!
And further, you may also know the stories and studies that have been and are being done around placebos. This shows that belief that the medicine will heal can be as powerful as the medicine itself. Or maybe the drug itself just doesn’t matter in some cases. Again the brain determines the experience of pain in this.
But the other side of the placebo effect, the nocebo effect, also exists. The belief that things will end badly has a powerful influence on us. And this nocebo effect can be brought about by ourselves. For example, read this story from a hospital ward in the UK:
A 29-year-old construction worker came to the emergency department after jumping on a 6-inch nail. The nail had completely gone through his shoe! The man was in excruciating pain. Even the slightest movement of the nail was painful and was therefore anesthetized with fentanyl and midazolam. The nail was then pulled out from below. When his boot was subsequently removed, a miraculous healing seemed to have taken place…. The nail had gone BETWEEN his toes and not through his toes! His foot was completely unharmed.
It was the visual perception of the nail threat passing through the man’s boot that made him think he must have suffered serious tissue damage, at which point the EXPERIENCE was very real to him. His pain was a “nocebo”.
I am discussing the placebo and nocebo effect in more detail in another blog; click for the placebo blog HERE and for the nocebo blog HERE.
In this blog I just wanted to point out that the brain ultimately determines whether you experience pain and how much pain you experience etc. And that the degree of injury or injury is not a measure of the amount of pain you experience.
After all, what this blog is about is; can the brain cause pain yes or no. And the answer is clear: the brain determines whether you experience pain or not.
Ultimately, the severity or amount of a tissue damage, injury, wound, or whatever really says nothing about the amount of pain you experience.
It is possible to have an injury or wound and not be in pain. Maybe you have ever experienced it yourself?
And it is also possible to be in pain without physical injury. The construction worker story above is a beautiful and perhaps somewhat extreme example of that.
But for any case like that of that construction worker, there are certainly hundreds more where the injury is real, but the patient is convinced that the damage is much worse than it really is – with proportionately exaggerated pain.
Either way, the final decision on whether you experience pain is made by the brain.
No brain, no pain.