Pain and the Brain

Pain tells you something is wrong

Pain is the signal to the brain indicating that something is wrong with the body. Based on this information (pain), the brain initiates multiple actions to remedy the problem.

It may initiate a movement to remove the body from harm’s way; it may throw surrounding muscle groups into spasm to immobilize and stabilize an injured joint or articulation; or it may increase the activity of local fibroblasts to begin the damage repair. The brain can also use a combination of these reactions to pain. All of the actions that the brain initiates are important and essential in appropriately dealing with the situation.

The brain’s actions in themselves though, can have inadvertent consequences. Sometimes the pain that we are experiencing is caused by the brain’s response to a situation or environment and the tension itself is the cause of the pain.

Humans tend to carry tension in the upper trapezius muscle groups in response to stress. These muscles are the most prominent in the back and extend up between the shoulders to the base of the skull.

Pain in the upper trapezius

Persistent tension in the upper trapezius pulls on the occiput, which is the base of the skull, and can cause what are commonly referred to as tension headaches.

Additionally, the compressive tension on the cervical spine (the neck) can keep the intervertebral disks from fully inflating and this will reduce the intervertebral foramen (holes in the side of the spine where the nerves come out).

This could result in aggravation of the nerve roots, restricted mobility and more unnecessary pain. This additional pain can then tell the brain to tighten up the region to “stabilize” it from damage that might occur if it moves too much. This action, however, just aggravates the problem and causes a cycle that needs to be broken by external means.

Blocking pain is not enough

Allopathic medicine addresses the need to break the cycle by blocking the pain signal. Oftentimes this works. The pain signal is blocked, the brain releases most of the local muscular fixation, the nerve aggravation subsides and most mobility returns.

However, even when this “works,” the solution is incomplete. No effort is being made to address the remaining muscular tension. This residual tension is often referred to as residual trauma. While the residual trauma can be effectively broken up with appropriate massage therapy, it is too often overlooked in the treatment of the patient.

The Three-Pronged-Approach to dealing with this situation using herbal tools is to:

  • Address the symptoms (pain)
  • Fix the problem (muscle tension and nerve aggravation)
  • Help the body to heal any tissue damage that may have initiated the cycle

The herbs that we would select to embody this approach vary slightly depending on the presumed cause.