Train the Brain Out of Pain

Train the Brain Out of Pain

Chiropractic Austin TX Train the Brain Out of Pain Healthy Woman

How Spinal Adjustments Affect the Brain

Dr. Heidi Haavik is of Research at the New Zealand College of Chiropractic. She is a chiropractor and has a PhD in human neurophysiology and has published over 65 articles on the effects of chiropractic on the brain and human physiology.

Dr. Haavik’s ground-breaking research finds that chronic pain problems are a learned problem within the brain. That’s not to say that people are making up or faking their pain. It’s often a brain problem far more than just a local tissue or pathology problem. So, if someone has had chronic pain for many years, by then it can be that the brain is interpreting spinal dysfunction (subluxation). The feelings of pain are danger warning signals and do not necessarily come from injured tissues. The nerve pathways have memorized the pain and the brain is changed. Pain can then be easily triggered by fear, loneliness, stress or anxiety.

What fascinates Dr. Haavik is how the brain interprets what is going on in the spine. This is why we need to Train the Brain Out of Pain. Her journey began out of curiosity as to why the spine matters so much. She was not actually studying back pain specifically. But she was curious as to why some people respond quickly to chiropractic care and others took much longer. And why did many patients experience such dramatic changes in how they slept, felt and functioned beyond relief from back pain? How could the spine influence all of these things?

The brain processes all the data coming in from the world around you – touch, sight, smell, taste and sound. But it also gets all kinds of data from inside your body – your temperature, digestion, your chemistry and all of this information gets integrated together, but surprisingly, the brain also processes your thoughts, feelings and past experiences. So, someone who has experienced a lot of stress will interpret the sensory information differently from someone who hasn’t been under a lot of stress. Our brains create our own reality.

Your brain functions as a giant supercomputer. It takes in all the sensory information, considers past experiences and what you are expecting from the future. What you expect to happen will influence your current reality. This integration is more significant than we ever knew. Someone may come to see a chiropractor with an area of chronic pain that has nothing to do with that body part at all. Their brain has learned pain. Contact our Austin TX chiropractic clinic today to learn more.


So how can you unlearn pain in Austin TX?

  1. Exercise – All exercise helps. The kind you like is best. The amount should usually be more than you are doing now, but not extreme. If you haven’t been doing much, you should start slow and build up. Fighting types of exercise such as boxing and Karate may not be good for people with chronic stress/pain because it keeps them in sympathetic dominance. More on that later. Tai chi, qigong, yoga, swimming, and walking would be better for you.
  2. Support the microbiome – There are more neurons in the gut than in the spinal cord. The gut is often referred to as the second brain. Probiotics, prebiotics and fermented foods are key here.
  3. Mindfulness meditation – A quiet mind heals worry and stress.
  4. Good sleep – Deep sleep is like a dishwasher for your brain. The brain is cleaned and detoxified when you are in deep sleep. Tips: People who have trouble getting to sleep are often deficient in Calcium/Magnesium and should supplement at bedtime. People who cannot stay asleep and wake up in the middle of the night are often having a blood sugar handling problem and should eat a couple of bites of protein at bedtime (a boiled egg is perfect).
  5. Therapy - Helps process traumatic events of the past, especially when you can re-frame the trauma. Research shows that 9 out of 10 Americans have suffered significant trauma in their lifetime.
  6. Spinal movement – Studies now show that chiropractic adjustments change the way your brain perceives what you see and hear. Adjustments change a person’s entire reality.

When we adjust the spine, we are affecting the part of the brain called the “Pain Matrix”. The key component of this system is the prefrontal cortex (PFC). The PFC is the part of the cerebral cortex in the front part of the frontal lobe. This brain region controls complex cognitive behavior, personality expression, decision making, and moderates social behavior. Think of it as your rational brain, the adult in the room. When you are stressed, your brain perceives this state as danger. Some people do not think they are stressed, but their brain disagrees. When you are stressed (depending upon the degree) your brain releases a flood of chemicals that turn off the PFC, creating an emotional storm. You might be angry, tearful, frightened, etc. This explains why you cannot always remember what happened during a stressful encounter. You are now in your Limbic brain where there is no time, logic, or reason. You are a two-year-old having a tantrum. We now know that this traumatic event forever changes your brain. Anything that happens in the future that vaguely reminds you of that experience will turn off your PFC and put your Limbic system in charge. For example: if you were abused as a child, any experience that reminds you of that trauma – a sound, sight or smell, will turn off your PFC. This can happen over and over again. And over time, this repetitive state of arousal causes sympathetic dominance and leaves you in a state of perpetual Fight/Flight/Freeze. The PFC is very important in controlling the parasympathetic system, allowing you to be mostly in a state of relaxation and repair. Those who are stuck in sympathetic dominance do not sleep well and they struggle to heal and digest properly. There is now an explosion of research demonstrating how damaging stress is to your health.

This sympathetic dominant state leads to an increase in inflammation which is connected to whole host of disorders. Some of the silent secondary conditions are high blood pressure, insulin resistance, high cholesterol, and autoimmune disorders. If this state continues long enough, it will result in full-blown disease – coronary artery disease, strokes, neurological diseases, arthritis, and chronic pain. When you think of what is going on today in the world, just think of what the future will hold for so many people if they don’t get the right kind of help now.

So how does the brain control the spine, posture, and movement? The brain senses the small deep muscles in between the vertebrae of the spine. The nerves from those muscles tell the brain when these small muscles are moving and stretching. If you are lifting a heavy load, you need your brain to tell the big muscles of the spine to stiffen, so you can do the job and not get hurt. If you are going for a walk or jog, your brain knows what you intend to do and it knows how much the big muscles need to stiffen and move properly.

If you are under stress, your brain primes the big spinal muscles for fight or flight. Simultaneously, the brain turns off the little muscles in between the vertebrae of the spine and skull. The brain needs these small muscles to sense the information to control spinal movement patterns appropriately. Over time, with chronic stress, these small muscles atrophy, are infiltrated with fatty deposits, and the nerves to and from these muscles are damaged. When these small muscles are inactivated due to stress, they also subluxate, misalign more easily. This is how people develop back pain, neck pain, headaches and other types of chronic pain. If you have been under long term stress, the big spinal muscles have been primed for fight or flight, and you end up with sore, stiff, tight muscles. The small muscles are weak and are no longer communicating with the brain. The small muscles in between the vertebrae are not accessed by massage. They are primarily activated when chiropractors adjust your spine.

This explains how chronic stress can cause poor posture. If the little muscles in between the vertebrae have been turned off for a long time, they have atrophied, making it very difficult for your brain to control your spine and maintain you in a healthy alignment. It’s no wonder people end up with so many spinal problems. This also explains why people need far more chiropractic care than just a few adjustments. No one expects optimal fitness after working out at the gym just a few times. Significant spinal healing takes repetition over time to train the brain out of pain and to improve the function of the brain. Chiropractic care is really good at turning off or reducing pain, and a lot has to do with the PFC.

To experience the effects of posture on your body, sit tall and take in three deep breaths. Now, drop your head forward and down and round your upper back and take in three big breaths. You just can’t do it. If you stay in that posture, the oxygen to your brain will decrease quickly and that is not good. Try this with a pulse oximeter on your finger and you will see immediate drop in your blood oxygen levels. Think of the consequences of the use of cell phones and smart devices on children who are bent over their phones for hours at a time.


In conclusion

Health is a continuum. You are not a lost cause. You can frequently reverse pathology. Your body knows how to heal. Spinal dysfunction can exist without pain. We now know that a spine should be checked from birth to correct subluxations and we can then maintain healthy alignment throughout your lifetime. Spinal dysfunction can exist without pain in many cases. Spinal dysfunction (subluxations) can cause overall muscle weakness, balance problems, and sensitivity to light and sound because the brain is struggling to interpret the faulty information coming from the spine. These symptoms are significant indicators of a spine in need of adjustments.

Think of chiropractic care as a connector of the brain to the body. With chiropractic adjustments, you sleep and heal better. You have better awareness of your body. You have better relationships. You are more present in your life. In short - A healthy spine equals a healthy brain.


References:

Train the Brain Out of Pain (F4CP Podcast with Sherry McAllister, DC)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sN4U6NVyIxM

“The Reality Check” by Heidi Haavik, Phd, DC

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Chiropractic Arts Center of Austin, P.C.

4131 Spicewood Springs Road #L-3
Austin, TX 78759

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