Pain Anatomy 101: How Pain Works, And How Your Subconscious May Be Able to Short-Circuit It

In building a strategy for pain relief it may be helpful to understand how pain works. Here's a quick primer to help you grasp the mechanics, and show you the points where your subconscious may be able to intervene to relieve your pain.

Science doesn't fully understand how pain signals are generated in the periphery of the body and transmitted to the brain. But it knows the major mechanisms well enough to be able to identify a number of weak points where the signals could be reduced or interrupted. These can be referred to as pain leverage points.

Here's a recap of our understanding of the process based on publicly available information. It's a great oversimplification, and may not occur in all cases. But it gives you a general idea of what's happening.

This mechanism seems to be operating in back pain or pain in other extremities, arthritis pain, fibromyalgia pain, or neuropathic pain (nerve pain).

Please note that we are not medical professionals and do not provide medical or health care advice. For medical advice, please see your physician.

Note also that the material in this article is provided to help you understand the details of the pain process and how you can attempt to relieve pain by using your subconscious. But this information is optional ? you don't need to read or understand any of it before attempting to use your subconscious to ease pain.

A Three-Stage Process

In general, pain signals move through three steps. Each of these steps is performed by a different type of nerve cell, or neuron:

? Stage 1: The pain signal begins in the periphery of the body--the skin, the lower back, anyplace that receives a painful stimulus. In Stage 1, Level 1 neurons pick up the signal and send it to the spinal cord for processing.

? Stage 2: In Stage 2, Level 2 neurons in the spinal cord make modifications to the signal. Here the signal can be radically increased. The Level 2 neurons send the modified signal to the thalamus, the pain processing center in the brain, but at this point you don't yet feel any pain.

? Stage 3: In Stage 3, Level 3 neurons in the brain move the signal from the thalamus to the cortex, where you finally experience it as pain.

Neurons are extremely long. A single Level 1 cell can stretch from your big toe to your spine. A single Level 2 cell can reach from your spine all the way up to the thalamus in your brain. And a single Level 3 cell in the brain can reach from the thalamus to the cortex.

The Role of Visualization Statements

We strive to use visualization statements to help the subconscious reduce the pain signal at 12 different leverage points along its 3-stage pathway.

Visualization statements represent the specific language that your subconscious wants you to read back to it to help ease your pain. They're simple and are targeted directly at the main factors that could bring you relief.

You can obtain these statements by learning how to communicate directly with your own subconscious mind. The process is straightforward and can be done at home by working with a facilitator over the telephone. You you need no special skills and no previous experience in working with the subconscious.

Stage 1 (Periphery to Spinal Cord): It's All About Inflammation

The body's first response to painful stimulation is usually inflammation. Pain from this source can occur for the following reasons:

? Prostaglandins. Most often inflammation is generated by hormone-like prostaglandins that are released at the site of injury or other stimulus. These chemicals inflame the two main kinds of Level 1 neurons: (1) C-fibers, thin bundles of neurons that need strong stimulation to fire, and don't identify the location of the pain very well. (2) A-beta fibers, thick bundles of neurons that fire from either light or strong stimulation, and pinpoint the exact location of the pain.

? Substance P. Normally pain signals are carried towards the brain, but in chronic pain the signals can get reversed and be carried back down into the body. If this applies to you, your body could be releasing a protein called substance P, powerfully inflaming nerve endings in some locations.

? Ion Channels. The pain signals from the above two sources of inflammation can be made worse if ion channels have forced openings in the nerve cell walls. These openings allow an abnormal increase of pain chemicals to move into the neuron. Ion channels are potentially a problem in all three stages on the pain signal pathway.

Prostaglandins, substance P, and ion channels can all be addressed using visualization statements. It's possible that this may help to reduce inflammation in Stage 1.

Stage 2 (Spinal Cord to Thalamus): The Source of Major Pain

When you have chronic pain, a series of events can occur in Stage 2 to radically increase the pain signal:

? Ion Channels. Ion channels may be allowing an unusually large amount of pain chemicals to move into the Stage 2 nerve cells (see Stage 1 above).

? Interneuron Windup. Normally C-fibers and A-beta fibers don't talk to each other very much. But in chronic pain they may--the repetitive firing of C-fibers can super-sensitize the big A-beta fibers. In turn, the A-betas trigger the first Level 2 neurons they find, the interneurons, to fire uncontrollably--even long after the stimulus is shut off. This is called interneuron windup and greatly increases the pain signal.

? NMDA Activation. Interneurons connect Level 1 to Level 2 neurons. When they send a strong pain signal to the main Level 2 nerve cells, glutamate is released and a powerful protein called NMDA is activated. This ratchets pain up to a new level, and makes possible the next two events, which together can produce devastating pain.

? MAPK Activation. Activated NMDA can cause MAPK (mitogen-activated protein kinase) to be released. This protein has been called the master control switch of nerve-injury pain. MAPK causes more and more pain-generating chemicals such as glutamate to be produced, and at the same time increases the sensitivity of pain receptors to those very chemicals.

? Long Level 2 Neuron Windup. Once MAPK is activated you need less and less glutamate to experience a given level of pain. This form of windup starts a vicious cycle of less glutamate and more pain that causes long Level 2 neurons to fire out of control, creating overwhelming pain.

Because Stage 2 is where really serious pain begins, many visualization statements are generated here. They address ion channels, interneuron windup, NMDA and MAPK activation, and long level 2 neuron windup, possibly helping to relieve pain.

Stage 3 (Thalamus to Cortex): Driving the Pain Home

If the signal leaves the Level 2 neurons with NMDA activated and long Level 2 neurons in windup, a strong pain signal is transmitted to your Level 3 nerve cells. If ion channels exist in Level 3 neurons, the signal can be made even more intense.

In Stage 3, the signal that arrived at the thalamus from Stage 2 is processed and then forwarded on to the cerebral cortex. Once the signal reaches the cortex you experience the full force of the pain.

Visualizations at this stage that address ion channels and the thalamus may help to ease pain.

Limiting the Transmission of Pain Emotion Signals

The emotional signals associated with your pain are transmitted to your brain using different signal pathways from those described above. Like the pain channels themselves, the pain emotion conduits have leverage points where it may be possible to reduce the signal. Visualizations targeted at each of those points may possibly help to reduce the emotional suffering that goes along with chronic pain.

Engaging the Subconscious

The subconscious is quite powerful. When programmed through the very visualizations that it suggests, it may be able to turn episodes of uncontrolled pain into events over which you have a degree of control.

Ben Plumb is CEO and President of The Visualization Group, Inc. The company's service is delivered by people like himself who personally suffered from years of chronic pain, and used the visualization method described in this article to obtain relief when nothing else worked. For more information, please visit http://www.thevisualizationgroup.com.

(c) 2005 The Visualization Group, Inc. All Rights Reserved. The methodology and program disclosed in this article are Patent Pending.

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