How Neurofeedback Can Help With Chronic Pain
By Zara Dureno, MOT, Occupational Therapist
Being in pain for an extended period of time can feel like a helpless situation. Many people try many different treatments and medications to no avail or hear conflicting information from different health care providers. When we are in pain for a long time, our brains change. In order to help alleviate the pain, we must work at the level of the brain. This does not mean trying to think your way out of the pain- it means literally changing the connections between the neurons that have learned the pattern of pain. Neurofeedback can help us to do just that.
Did you know that our bodies do not have pain receptors? We have these receptors called nociceptors which detect chemical changes, pressure and heat. Those signals get sent up to the brain and the brain interprets them to decide whether or not those signals mean that we need protection. If we need to protect an area of our body, the brain will produce pain. Whether or not we need protection from pain is determined by the parts of our brain involved in pain: our limbic system (emotional brain), our frontal cortex (logic and context) and our reticular activating system (wakefulness).
If we are in a fearful, angry or sad emotional state or we have cognitions about our pain which create the meaning in our brain that we are unsafe, our brains will naturally produce pain. When our brains have spent a lot of time feeling unsafe and like a certain part of our body needs protection, there is a pattern built and those parts of our brain become stronger. This is the process of the brain changing with pain, or “neuroplasticity”. The good news is that while our brains can change for the worse, they can also change for the better!
Neurofeedback is a device that you wear on your head that reads your brainwaves and feeds them back to you in real time. When you are in a calm brain state, you get rewarded with points in a game on your phone. This helps to train your brain to be in this state more frequently. The more that we can soothe the “alarm system” in our brain, the less pain we will experience. If this process is repeated over time, our brain learns to produce less pain in the long term. There may be some physical issues causing your pain such as pinched nerves, weak supporting muscles and muscle tension but having the mental component soothed can significantly reduce pain and take away a large part of the suffering component.
If you would like to try neurofeedback and to speak with a clinician who is highly trained in pain science and has lived experience with chronic pain, please call our clinic and ask for a free consult with Zara!