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Chronic Pain and Emotional Health

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Updated January 23, 2006

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Emotional Deliverance and the Limbic System
But this story goes even further. The pathway of the chronic pain nerve fibers end at different places in the brain than do those delivering acute pain. Remember, the brain directs the interpretation of signals that come into the body from outside (and inside) sources. Because chronic pain nerve fibers end in two places in the brain, namely, the limbic system and the hypothalamus, the interpretation of the signals on those fibers is subject to two main processes.

The limbic system processes the emotions and the hypothalamus releases stress hormones. According to Whitten, Donovan and Cristobal, the limbic system is stimulated during the acute pain experience.2 During acute pain, the limbic system tells the spinal cord to hold back on the pain signals. Temporarily, the brain does not want to receive these signals. With the limbic system working hard to repress the pain signals, and also in cases of stress, the spinal cord is abuzz with activity. The spinal cord can only stand so much stimulation gracefully, after which the pain threshold is reduced. The result is a chronic pain situation where the patient is hypersensitive to pain. Research with MRIs show a direct relationship between the amount of focus given to the pain, and the amount of pain perceived. Maybe it’s time for meditation and other coping strategies!
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