How Increased Neuroplasticity Can Aid In The Treatment Of Chronic Pain

Neuroplasticity is defined by Norman Doidge as the property of the brain that allows it to change its structure and function; “It is more like a plant than a machine,” Doidge has stated, meaning it is malleable and adaptable. This belief contradicts long-held scientific that claim the brain is hardwired or fixed.

Because the origin of pain can be found in the “pain maps” of one’s brain, neuroplastic approaches can be a viable option for those who experience long-term chronic pain.

Doidge also highlight that “one of the core laws of neuroplasticity is that neurons that fire together wire together, meaning that repeated mental experience leads to structural changes in the brain neurons that process that experience.”

The study of this field has increased significantly in the last decade. Findings have suggested that neuroplastic changes in brain structure and function are both a consequence of chronic pain and are involved in the maintenance of pain symptoms. Evidence about the human brain’s response to a plethora of environmental and behavioral interventions may assist in identifying targets to facilitate increased neurobiological receptivity, which promotes healthy neuroplastic changes.

While periods of heightened plasticity have been traditionally been identified in early years of development, more recent research has identified a wide spectrum of methods that can be used to “re-open” and enhance plasticity and learning in adults.

With long-term, persistent pain, one’s brain transforms to receive the pain signals from your body and more and more of your brain’s resources become dedicated to receiving those signals, which means that pain-carrying nerves become more abundant (and stronger) and the brain, in turn, creates new pathways to receive these pain signals. In many cases, the original injury has already healed; the chronic pain is now the “injury”.

Therefore, the challenge is to “switch off” the chronic pain by utilizing the brain’s neuroplasticity to return to its normal state.  By stimulating the brain with non-pain input during pain spike episodes, it may be possible to activate the cells and their connections, which have been appropriated for pain enhancement, in order to revert them to their normal function.

Needless to say, many doctors are now beginning to apply theories of neuroplasticity to the treatment of chronic pain. Implementation methods include transcranial direct current stimulation and transcranial magnetic stimulation, among others.

Chronic pain patients may consider other, less-invasive neuroplastic changes, such as behavioral and lifestyle strategies; exercise, incremental training, educational video games intermittent fasting and caloric restriction, after discussing these approaches with an expert.