How Does Your Brain Decide If Something Is Painful Or Not?

This week we are going to talk about how the brain is causing your chronic pain from an overly sensitive nervous system

Hey guys welcome back! The last few weeks we have been introducing the chronic pain issue and started reframing our thoughts on pain

This module will go deeper into the role the brain plays with us having an overly sensitive nervous system

Comment and let us know if you were able to find a way to move for 4mins and how many days you were able to move for? Also what questions have come up now that we have 4 modules up? 

Let's have some fun first with brain optical illusions listed below and with some crazy brain facts

  • The brain uses 20% of the bodies oxygen
  • The brain has 125,00 miles of neurons (these are the small lego blocks of your brain and nervous system)
  • While awake our brains can generates 10 to 23 watts of power, enough to power a light bulb!
  • The brain also has no pain receptors
  • The brain is the fattest organ in the body and is at least 60% fat
  • On average the brain weighs 3lbs
  • On average we have 70k thoughts a day
  • The brain is 75% water
  • The brain is made up of 100 billion neurons (the lego blocks that get put together to make your nervous system)
  • We make more brain cells throughout life in response to how we use it
Adelson's Checker-Shadow Illusion Muller-Lyer Illusion

How Does Your Brain Decide If Something Is Painful Or Not?

It is called the pain Neuromatrix (the pain neuroscience education book uses the example of an airplane flight map, see below), which means different areas in your brain work together to give you a pain experience

Look at pain like an airline map, where all the airlines fly. With all the areas in your brain processing danger messages, you have an airline map of pain in your brain. In real life different people fly different airlines, which is similar to how each person with pain uses similar areas but different pathways. Pain is individualized and your pain needs to be treated this way.

The pain neuromatrix, aka the airline map inside your head, invovles

  • Perception
  • Consciousness
  • Memory
  • Hebbian theory (nerves that fire together wire together, Ex. raising the arm to full flexion initially hurt, now it hurts to go to half flexion, and if we do not address the overly sensitive nervous system it will eventually hurt to even think about moving your arm)
  • Processing (sensory, cognitive, emotional)
  • Changes in the brain and nervous system outside of the brain 

Think about pain being like a memory and not located in a single spot of the brain (think about a memory of a loved one, you can remember different emotional times with them, how they smelled, an enviroment you view them in etc... )

  • Amygdala
  • Sensory area
  • Motor area
  • Hippocampus
  • Anterior cingulate cortex
  • Hypo/thalamus prefrontal cortex
  • Cerebellum
  • Spinal chord 


This is why chronic pain can affect:

  • Stress Response
  • Homeostasis-your bodies natural balancing act
  • Hormones
  • Immune System
  • Memory
  • Focus/concentration
  • Makes us believe we have an issue in our tissue

The easiest way to look at this is the brain is the CEO of your body... Think of a big corporate office building

 Who is at the top?

The CEO/President of the company. Below them you can find all the divisions of the company. It is normal for all the divisions to send reports to the CEO. This allows the ceo to monitor the organization and deal with the issues, should they arise.

Now our bodies works the same way. The brain is the CEO of body Inc., and below the CEO is the neck division, left shoudler division, low back division etc… They are all sending reports back to the brian like the CEO gets above. What happens when the CEO gets a report that a division is not doing well? The CEO will require more routine reports so the problem can be figured out and addressed. Your brain does the same thing with pain and it decides to act on an area it percieves is not doing well. 


 *metaphor is from pain neuroscience education 

What does this have to do with your persistent pain and your failed treatments?

The brain is getting that report and starting to worry more about the pain causing it to shift focus more to that area

Now your brain is getting more and more reports about this area. What does this mean to you? When you have an on going pain you become more aware of the area and can think something is wrong even when it is not or has had proper time to heal. This is not always the case and you may just become hyper aware of the area. This increased awareness means previous tasks that did not bother your can start to bother you now (picking up a shoe, and bending over to brush your teeth or do dishes). Now this may not be a true indication of an actual tissue issue

Now the CEO can be a bit overprotective and a worry wart

If one division is underperforming the CEO might start snooping in other divisions as well. Now the CEO wants all divisions to send weekly reports so they can look for a possible problem.

Now you become more aware of other areas ontop of the original area. The brain is the CEO of the body. When it is worried about you it starts snooping around. The end result is increased awareness of other body areas without tissue damage. The pain then starts to spread as well. The problem is an overly sensitive nervous system now.

The only way to calm it down is to move in a sore but safe manner knowing that there’s not actually a tissue issue that will get worse with the movement. Movement sends a signal to the ceo that there's no real tissue issues and the CEO stops demanding weekly reports and goes back to normal reports without investigating. Remember the brain scans and less pain blobs on the brain? When you understand more about pain your body will send less and less information and we re-enforce how capable you are with movement. This is how pain can ease and knowledge can become a powerful therapy. 

What can you do to stop this from happening?

The key is slowly and routinely increasing movement in your life that is perceived as sore, but safe so the brain CEO will chill out


Rememebr we need to move daily to rewire our brain (change the neuroplascity) 

Home Work

Pull Up The Course Calendar


This week we will be focused on trying to do 7 mins of cardio for 4 days and to play the rehab board game linked below 1 time. I want you to start with the beginner moves and see if you can make it to the finish while staying in a sore, but safe level of perceived pain. Reference Week 6 in your pain recovery weekly calendar.

Rehab Board Game Pain Recovery Weekly Calendar

We are excited about what this class will do to reframe how you look at pain, which will get you back to doing the things you love in daily life again

We are so proud of you for undertaking this course and taking your pain head on

This process can be a lot, so do not hesitate to slow down to your own pace. You are not alone. If you are stuck and need more help do not even hesitate to reach out to us.  

Your life is waiting for you again on the other side of this course, till next time guys 🙂

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