Pain and Your Brain: Part One

What if you could flip a switch and shut off pain? Or maybe even turn down the volume of the pain signal?

We’ve all had fatalistic conversations with ourselves. “I have a bad back, the MRI shows I have a slipped disc, I have no core stability, I can’t use my knees because I have arthritis, I’m falling apart, I REALLY have to be careful”.

What we’ve been taught about pain. 

Pain equals tissue damage – needs a tune-up! Too many people have assumptions, or rather misconceptions, that have not been beneficial to the health of their brains and bodies. Research in the area of pain science has been looking at the biological processes involved in this unpleasant physical and emotional experience we call pain. As a result, it’s changing the way we think for the better, turning down the pain volume and allowing us get on with the fun in our lives without being so fearful.

According to Professor Lorimer Moseley from the University of South Australia, “this is not just new age thinking. These discoveries have shifted the world’s understanding of how best to treat pain. Decreasing pain starts with knowing about pain and choosing to work on sustainable strategies.”


Dr. Moseley is a leading scientist, physiotherapist and professor in the field of pain neuroscience. In collaboration with Dr. David Butler, he has been instrumental in bringing science to the people, promoting a better understanding of pain and developing patient strategies and education materials. Pain is no laughing matter, but Lorimer has the capacity to wind down our nervous systems by sharing real life, entertaining stories and metaphors as part of his education strategy. They can be found in his books – Explain Pain Handbook: Protectometer and Painful Yarns or in his TED Talk.

I recently had the great pleasure of meeting Dr. Moseley at the Explain Pain conference. To promote this cognitive shift in understanding the biology of pain and communicating this to patients, Boston University’s Department of Physical Therapy and Athletic Training invited Lorimer to speak to a group of PT, OT and AT.  Just in case you didn’t know Z-Health Performance Solutions, an innovative education company, has integrated this neuroscience and paradigm shift into their training programs for health and fitness professionals.

A new look at pain and the brain.

To help you along in your journey of understanding pain, I’d like to introduce you to Brainman, Australia’s celebrity. Since making his debut in late 2011, Brainman’s first film “Understanding pain and what to do about it in less than five minutes” has had close to 500,000 views and been translated into nine different languages.  This video is enough to alter deeply help misconceptions about pain.

Pain is a protector, informer and behavior changer.

One of Lorimer’s stories in Painful Yarns is call “The Thirsty Idiots.” He uses an experience we are all familiar with. The key points to his story are as follows:

  • Thirst is dependent on an unconscious evaluative brain process.
  • Thirst becomes a conscious experience that motivates us to do something to survive.
  • Thirst is sufficiently unpleasant to make us want to stop what we are doing.
  • Thirst does not provide us with a measure of our tissues (i.e. dehydration), it makes us take action (i.e. drink).

NOW in each of the above statements replace the word THIRST with the word PAIN and read it out loud.

Evidence has shown that dealing with pain starts with education. Making this shift in thinking helps prevent the brain from over protecting! Because our brain’s internal evaluation system relies on cues which come in many forms, Lorimer and his team of researchers have turned this knowledge into a practical approach. In Part Two of my blog, we’ll take a look at The Protectometer in the Explain Pain Handbook. In the mean time, have fun exploring the links below.


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