Chronic Pain and Re-training the Brain

Our brains always have the best intentions. The brain’s ultimate goal is to keep us alive, and pain is used as a communication tool to let us know when something is wrong. The brain is really smart, and to be as efficient as possible, it keeps rewiring the nervous system to communicate effectively with the rest of the body

This phenomenon is called neuroplasticity. This rewiring process helps us to learn new things, it gives us the power to change our behaviours and the power to slow cognitive decline by exercising our thoughts. This means that with our thoughts we can help retrain the brain (McCarber & Peppin 2019).

To understand how the brain functions in the context of chronic pain, it may help to view the brain as an elite soldier, whose entire purpose is to protect you as best as it can. Pain signals are valuable with an acute injury. For example, pain signals alert you to a broken bone so you know not to move it until you can get medical help and rehabilitate safely. It also means that if the brain senses a reoccurring threat, it has the capability to signal to you faster to help you respond quickly to that threat and prevent further injury (McCarber & Peppin 2019).

But what happens when the brain keeps dealing with the same threat again and again over a long period of time and it’s not sure how to keep you away from the threat?

The brain tells the nervous system to stay on high alert and may signal when anything happens that is similar to the danger, even when there is no threat (Zhuo 2017).

This can explain why sometimes everything can look healed on a recent scan, yet the pain is still very real and valid. It’s never just in your head; this affects the whole body. Over time, the brain in its efforts to protect us can wire things in a way that isn’t helpful to our healing anymore. This means that the area of injury can become sensitized to pain, meaning stimuli such as a gentle bump or exercise that would normally not hurt very much could be more painful. 

So, do we have the power to do anything about it?

Hell yeah!

Freedom from chronic pain after injury is possible.
Optimizing quality of life with permanent chronic pain conditions is possible.

Sometimes, the hardest part of recovery is trying again. After things have been a struggle for a long time, it’s really scary and hard to believe that things can be better when we’ve tried so many other things in the past. It’s natural to be hesitant.
We have the power to retrain the brain and learn to trust our bodies again when living with pain.

Healing the brain when experiencing chronic pain involves a variety of factors:

  • Learning to trust our bodies again
  • Recognizing that health needs a holistic approach and there’s no one-size-fits-all treatment
  • Understanding that the brain is doing its best to protect us
  • ✦Learning how to be kind to our mind
  • Nourishing our body with good nutrition (Nijs et al 2019)
  • Learning how to safely exercise and teaching the brain safe movement again (Tajerian & Clark 2017)

There is hope, and we have more power to change our circumstances for the better than we often know.


McCarber, B & Peppin, J 2019, Pain pathways and nervous system plasticity: Learning and memory in pain, Pain Medicine, vol. 20, no. 12, p2421-2437.

Nijs, J, Elma, O, Yilmaz, S, Mullie, P, Vanderween, L, Clarys, P, Deliens, T, Coppieters, I, Weltens, N, Van Oudenhove, L & Malfliet, A 2019, Nutritional neurobiology and central nervous system sensitisation: Missing link in a comprehensive treatment for chronic pain? British Journal of Anaesthesia, vol. 123, no. 5, p539-543.

Tajerian, M & Clark, J 2017, Nonpharmacological interventions in targeting pain-related brain plasticity, Neural Plasticity, vol. 2017, p1-10.

Zhuo, M 2017, Ionotropic glutamate receptors contribute to pain transmission and chronic pain, Neuropharmacology, vol. 112, p228-234.



Celeste Bishop


she / her


Gold Coast, Australia


Senior Student Naturopath & Nutritionist (BHSc) 


Fav Health Hack:

Mixing some hemp powder into homemade sauces as a thickener for extra protein and omega-3





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