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Pain Really Is All In Your Head And Emotion Controls Intensity : NPR

Pain Really Is All In Your Head And Emotion Controls Intensity Shots Health News NPR


That suggests that at least some people can teach their brains how to filter out things like chronic pain,

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This is what I've talked about with respect to exercise, running, pain thresholds: You can change your brain to experience pain differently and eventually to control it.  I can ignore even severe pain if I concentrate.

You're referring to the pain caused by exercising, not the pain caused by chronic migraines, right?

All pain to some degree or another.  I've said that adapting to exercise pain changes your relationship to pain overall.  Migraine pain is among the worst and is very difficult to ignore.  While other minor pain I can brush off, migraine pain is very insistent.  However, with complete concentration I can cancel it, but any distraction at all causes it to spill over again.  Luckily, I've also been able to stop having migraines so it is seldom or never an issue.

Did your migraines suddenly stop or was there something you did to stop them?

Your form of concentration sounds similar to meditation.

I would get a headache that was deemed a migraine about once every year or two, although rarely more often.  A doctor once, the day after, said he could still see the blood vessels in my retina pulsing.  Nothing stopped them or helped other than going to sleep.  I was given prescriptions for oral ergotamine and later Sumatriptin, but they didn't help and with so long between headaches, hard to have it handy.  On one particularly bad headache, they give me an injection of Sumatriptin.  It may have helped, along with Demerol, to knock out the headache or at least squelch the pain.  But I then had rebound headaches for 3 days.

Eventually I realized a few things, starting with one of the worst headaches just after I visited you and Rohit at Know Now, driving back to SJC highly impaired: If I didn't eat breakfast (ran too long), exercised strenuously (I had run 6 miles hard that morning), and was under stress (excitement of meeting, probably some drama with the ex & kids, then I opened a checking California checking account while heading to the airport), it was fairly predictable that I would have a problem.  So, low blood sugar and stress were suspects.

As I was training to get my private pilot's license, I needed to solve the problem.  I had to wait a whole year to get my medical back to continue training when I checked on a form that I had had a migraine.  I always ate breakfast after that and put a ceiling on stress that I would exert upon myself.  Exercise didn't seem to be much of a problem, but I monitored it too.  Later, I realized what was probably happening was that when stressed, I was tensing the muscles in the back of my neck.  Eventually, I would start getting a stress headache.  Often, I would do the wrong thing, pushing my head back to stretch.  I realized that nerves were being pinched by the tenseness and I was making it worse. The pinched nerves seemed to be triggering an overall vascular headache.  I found that an ice pack on the back of the neck & head helped slow or stop a headache.  A friend with a very similar problem swears by this now.  I pay attention to early tension headache signs, deliberately relaxing and changing gears to recharge and step away from the edge.

On top of that, I exercise frequently, almost always talking to someone or listening to an abook (audio book), make sure I take breaks and avoid hyper-focused tensing.  I have sex as frequently as I can, which is a complete emotion & stress flush.  I also read in many areas, post on Panda Whale, listen to background music, Ted talks, etc.

I guess it depends on what you mean by meditation. I did practice various forms of meditation as a teenager (relaxation, auto-hypnosis, biogenics, TM, yoga mysticism), whatever I could find in the library in a small town in about 1980. The "cancelling pain" procedure is hard to describe. At low levels, you simply concentrate on something else. For the high end, it is sort of like focusing on a bright light while fumbling with unseen controls with your fingers until you find the right spot to "press on", but your fingers keep slipping off or get tired. Your brain has something like "motor control" of a lot of things you never learn to use because feedback isn't clear. Long ago, there were biofeedback experiments where people learned to control autonomic functions like heart rate and extremity blood flow by watching the response on a machine. This is essentially what those yogis did to learn to control their bodies better. With massive brain pain, I am getting feedback to control from the normally opaque physicality of the brain. This works the other way too: I am certain that I can trigger a migraine in a few minutes by talking and thinking about it too much - I have felt early signs repeatedly just because the subject comes up. So, here endeth the lesson.

So there's no one thing. It's everything.

Figure out your triggers, manage them, and desensitize them if you can.  If it is something you like, it might be that you can edge up to the threshold, perhaps training it to recede.  I edge up on stress, exercise, low blood sugar, dehydration when working out hard, concentration, etc.  When you are bad at it, you add anxiety and thinking about having a headache which just makes it more inevitable.

Sounds like you have a scientist's approach to it. Experiment to figure out the causes.

It seems to be harder for some people than for others.

Wish it were that simple for me. I always read these articles about the brain's superhuman power to defeat such things. I have the worst migraine as we speak. Good to know I won't have to learn to fly. 

Yes, it does seem to be harder for some people than for others.

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