Advice for patients with chronic pain, fibromyalgia, and chronic fatigue, from experts in the neuroscience of pain
Why we feel pain
We feel pain when the brain “reaches the conclusion” that it is in danger and that it needs to do something, which sometimes involves activating the “pain programme”. In this context, it is crucial to discover why the brain reaches the conclusion that there is a threat.
Feeling pain does not always mean that there is any damage or injury. We can feel it without there being an injury. For example, when we see our child fall and hurt themselves. But there can also be an injury without pain; have you ever had a wound or scratch appear and not even remembered or felt it when you hurt yourself?
The intensity of pain is not related to how bad the injury to the tissues is. Does the same punch hurt the same every time and the same for everyone? Do the stitches from a C-section hurt the same for everyone?
Pain is generated in the brain, not in the tissues. We have “danger sensors” throughout our bodies that send signals to the brain, which will use that information and other factors to decide whether to activate the pain or fatigue programme.
It is always the brain that decides whether to generate pain or not. 100% of the time, if it believes itself to be in danger, it will decide to do so based on several variables: context, previous experience, beliefs, emotions, etc.
Pain in patients with fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue
Patients with fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome might feel more pain than other people or might feel pain in response to stimuli that do not normally trigger pain, such as a caress.
These processes occur because the brain activates the pain or fatigue programme to protect the individual from the danger it believes there to be, even though this danger does not really exist, as the brain interprets reality incorrectly.
Pain is always real, it is not consciously brought on, nor is it made-up, nor is it a figment of people’s imaginations. It is not a psychological problem. Someone who suffers from fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue is not to blame for their condition, but they are responsible for being involved in their treatment using active strategies.
The first step towards getting better is understanding what is happening in your brain and what is causing your pain. Do not let pain dictate your life and limit what you can do.
Guillén del Castillo