For those who suffer with chronic pain, the knowledge and understanding of how pain works in our body is therapeutic and can actually help decrease your pain.
In this article I would like to explain how the brain is our body’s CEO and liken it to the CEO of a company.
In addition to being a physical therapist, I am the CEO of our company, FIT Physical Therapy. As such, I oversee the entire company. In order for me to do my job well, I need information from each of our 5 clinics on how they are doing. Some of this information I gather daily, and other information I look at less frequently. The information I receive helps me determine where we are performing well, but also helps me identify areas that may need closer attention. Occasionally there is a division within our company that is having a problem so I may talk directly with the Clinic Directors or employees and dig a little deeper for more information. I may ask for more regular reports until the issues are resolved. I may go looking at related areas in our other clinics to see if there are having similar problems.
In a similar manner, your brain is your body’s CEO and functions in a similar way to the CEO of a business. Information is gathered and sent to your brain through your nervous system. Remember from my first article on Why You Hurt, that our nervous system contains over 400 individual nerves and 45 miles of nerve tract from our fingertips to our toes and everywhere in between. These nerves pass information onto the spinal cord, which in turn passes it onto the brain. The brain takes in this information and determines the areas that are doing well, and those that may need some extra attention. If the brain perceives a threat or danger to our body, then pain is produced to take action. The somewhat derogatory saying that pain is in your head is actually true! Not in the sense that the pain is not real, rather, that our brains are much more involved in our pain experiences than we have previously understood.
To take this analogy a step further, each of our body parts such as shoulders, hips, back, etc. are all divisions of Body Inc. These body parts are constantly sending information through the nervous system to the brain (CEO) to inform it on how they are doing. When life is good, regular reports usually suffice. But when something is amiss, the brain is going to want more information so it can help figure out the problem and deal with the issue.
When someone has persistent or chronic pain, for example, low back pain the CEO-brain get’s concerned and asks for daily reports instead of weekly or monthly. What does this mean? Well, if you have ongoing pain, you become more ‘aware’ of the area and might think there is something wrong. This might not be the case. You might just need to be more aware of the area because your brain is concerned. In addition, the brain as the CEO may start snooping around in other divisions of the body to make sure they are doing ok. The end result is an increased awareness of other body areas. This helps explain why when one body area is injured you may feel the pain spreading to the surrounding areas of your body. This does not mean there is new injury, it simply means and increased sensitization of these areas because the CEO-brain is checking them to make sure they are doing ok.
Once the CEO of the company feels that the issue is resolved, regular operations can resume. Once our brain is no longer worried about that particular division of Body Inc. and our nervous system can settle down to their normal levels. In the next article in this series of Why You Hurt, I will address tips and strategies to get an overly sensitive nervous system back to normal.