The Pain Psychology Center is a facility specializing in the treatment of chronic pain.
Recent studies have shown that chronic back pain, neck pain, fibromyalgia symptoms, repetitive strain injury, headaches, and other forms of chronic pain are often not the result of structural causes, but of psychophysiologic processes that can be reversed.1,2,3 This is known as neuroplastic pain.
Pain is a danger signal. Normally when we injure ourselves, the body sends signals to the brain informing us of tissue damage, and we feel pain. But sometimes, the brain can make a mistake! Neuroplastic pain results from the brain misinterpreting safe messages from the body as if they were dangerous. In other words, neuroplastic pain is a false alarm.
Though the pain can be addressed psychologically, this does not imply that the pain is imaginary. In fact, brain imaging studies have demonstrated that the pain is quite real.4 Recent research has shown that pain is often the result of learned neural pathways in the brain.5 And just as pain can be learned, it can also be unlearned.
Pain Reprocessing Therapy
We’ve developed a treatment approach called Pain Reprocessing Therapy that aims to rewire neural pathways in the brain in order to deactivate pain. Pain Reprocessing Therapy is a system of psychological techniques that retrains the brain to respond to signals from the body properly, and subsequently break the cycle of chronic pain.
One of the central techniques of Pain Reprocessing Therapy is somatic tracking. Somatic tracking is a combination of mindfulness, safety reappraisal, and positive affect induction. The purpose of somatic tracking is to help patients attend to the painful sensation through a distinct lens of safety, thus deactivating the pain signal.
An example of somatic tracking can be found in the following session excerpt, conducted at a recent training:
Often, chronic pain patients develop conditioned responses – the brain creates an association between certain physical activities and the onset of pain (i.e. walking leads to back pain, typing leads to wrist pain, etc.) Another component of Pain Reprocessing Therapy involves helping patients break these associations, so that patients can engage in physical activities without pain.
In the following clip, Felicia has developed a conditioned response where she has neck pain every time she turns her head. By by getting several corrective experiences, she's able to break the cycle and turn her head, pain-free.
As we mentioned earlier, pain is a danger signal. And while it's important to teach the brain to reinterpret that signal as non-dangerous, it's also important to promote general feelings of safety overall. Learning to comfort yourself, not with logic or rationale, but on an emotional level can help teach the primitive part of you that you're safe, thus reducing symptoms.
The following session excerpt with Mandi exemplifies this concept.
These are simply several examples, and are not meant to serve as a comprehensive overview of our approach. Although therapists at the Pain Psychology Center follow a general model, treatment is specifically tailored for each patient based on individual needs.
For further information about the evidence behind Pain Reprocessing Therapy as well as the research behind neuroplastic pain, visit our evidence page.
If you are a clinician interested in becoming certified in Pain Reprocessing Therapy, visit our training website here.
Castro WH, Meyer SJ, Becke ME, Nentwig CG, Hein MF, Ercan BI et al. (2011). No stress - no whiplash? Prevalence of ‘whiplash’ symptoms following exposure to a placebo rear-end collision. International Journal of Legal Medicine, 114, 316-22.
Bigos SJ, Battié MC, Fisher LD et al. (1991) A prospective study of work perceptions and psychosocial factors affecting the report of back injury. Spine, 16(1),1-6.
Baliki MN, Petre B, Torbey S, Herrmann KM et al. (2012) Corticostriatal functional connectivity predicts transition to chronic back pain. Natture Neuroscience 15, 1117-1119.
Derbyshire SW, Whalley MG, Stenger VA, Oakley DA. (2004) Cerebral activation during hypnotically induced and imagined pain. Neuroimage 23(1), 392-401.
Wager, T., Atlas, L., Lindquist, M., Roy, M., Woo, C.W., M.A., Kross, E. (2013) An fMRI-Based Neurologic Signature of Physical Pain. New England Journal of Medicine 368, 1388-1397.
*All participants consented to recording and reproduction of audio clips.