Chronic pain affects about one-fifth of American adults (about 50 million people). Recent studies have shown that chronic conditions including neck pain, back pain, fibromyalgia, migraines, gastrointestinal disorders, and many more forms of chronic pain are often not the result of pathology in the structural body. Neuroplastic pain is the result of learned neural pathways in the brain, which is a psychophysiological process that can be reversed.
The brain can experience pain over and over again, and the neural pathways get sensitized and strengthened to a point that acute pain may become chronic. When fear of pain increases, we reinforce that the pain is dangerous, and the body tends to protect itself by sending more pain. This then leads to more fear and a cycle of pain and fear builds on itself which maintains the pain.
This does not mean that pain is imagined or “just in your head.” This is pain felt physically. But it can be addressed psychologically from a mind-body perspective.
Pain Reprocessing Therapy (PRT) is a psychological approach that aims to eliminate and resolve neuroplastic pain by retraining the brain to interpret and respond to signals from the body properly. We use a set of techniques and strategies aimed at breaking the pain-fear cycle and lowering the hypervigilance in the nervous system. These techniques aim to help people view their pain as non threatening and reappraising symptoms as caused by non-dangerous nervous system processes.
PRT is an evidence-based treatment. A peer-reviewed randomized controlled trial confirmed and validated the efficacy of PRT for chronic back pain (but it can be translated to other forms of chronic pain as well). Results of the study showed that 66% of participants receiving PRT “nearly or almost nearly pain free” after the course of therapy. 98% of participants had some improvement in pain intensity.
PRT has multiple elements including:
PRT uses somatic, cognitive, and mindfulness techniques to retrain and rewire the neural pathways that maintain. One of the main techniques of PRT is called somatic tracking. Its primary goal is to help correct the misinterpretation in the brain and teach the brain that the symptom it is assessing as dangerous is actually safe. Somatic tracking is a mindfulness technique and will help individuals attend to painful sensations through a lens of safety that helps to reduce fear and deactivate pain signals. The keys to healing neuroplastic pain include internalizing the fact that it is not dangerous and reducing or eliminating fear of the pain or other emotions that keep the brain on high alert.
Again, we want to stress that having neuroplastic pain does not mean that your pain is not valid or that the pain is imagined. The research in this field shows that pain is real, and, because it is learned by the brain, it can be reversed.
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