Imagine that your brain is an engine in a car with a manual transmission.
You keep your engine well-oiled and tuned up… and day after day it efficiently propels your car along from Point A to Point B. Never a complaint.
Until one day the clutch snaps. Something has gone wrong in the transmission and suddenly you’re forced to use first gear to get around until you can get it fixed. In the meanwhile, your engine strains along at super-high RPMs.
You’d better get that problem fixed soon or you risk burning out your engine just driving around town.
Chronic pain does the same thing to your brain.
We know that pain is the body’s way of telling the brain, “Something is wrong. Fix it now.” But when that pain continues unchecked, your brain goes into overload.
According to researchers at the Feinberg School of Medicine, a comparison of those with chronic back pain and pain-free subjects showed on functional MRIs that even very simple tasks cause those neurons to fire up… but only the pain-free subject’s neurons deactivated back to their normal state afterwards.
As those neurons continue to fire, they work themselves to the point of exhaustion – and die. Another study showed that chronic back pain shrinks the gray matter of your brain as much as 11%. That’s the equivalent of 10-20 years of aging!
Now before you run and grab a Tylenol to stop the pain and save your brain, you may want to hear about a brand new study out of Spain. Researchers there just found that higher levels of acetaminophen is neurotoxic in rats. Extrapolated out to people, they believe it may kill our brain cells too – even within the upper end of the normal dosage schedule.
Besides, ignoring the problem by masking it with drugs isn’t going to help you any more than sticking an index card in front of the gauge on your dashboard will protect your car’s engine from a broken clutch. You’ve either got to address the problem or face a complete breakdown at some point.
That’s why if you have a problem with your clutch you’ll take your car to a mechanic. And if you’re fighting chronic back pain, you’ll find the solution in my free book, The 7-Day Back Pain Cure.
Click here to request your FREE copy
Apkarian AV, et al. Chronic back pain is associated with decreased prefrontal and thalamic gray matter density. The Journal of Neuroscience. 2004 Nov 17;24(46):10410-5.
Baliki MN, Geha PY, Apkarian AV, Chialvo DR. Beyond feeling: chronic pain hurts the brain, disrupting the default-mode network dynamics. The Journal of Neuroscience. 2008 Feb 6;28(6):1398-403.
Posadas I, et al. Acetaminophen induces apoptosis in rat cortical neurons. PLoS One. 2010 Dec 10;5(12):e15360.
Written By: Updated: January 12,2011
1 thought on “Don’t Let Pain Burn Out Your Brain”
Thank you for this wonderfully informative article on pain and brain exhaustion. I have often wondered why pain is so exhausting. As a medical hypnotherapist, I work with chronic pain a great deal. This will really help me help my clients who are in chronic (and acute) pain.