Calming the Nervous Systems

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A Mind Body Approach to Healing Chronic Pain that is Non-Structural

Howard Schubiner, M.D.

For many people with chronic pain, the cause is a nerve pathway problem rather than tissue damage. The treatment for a tissue damage problem is different than for a nerve pathway problem. This section deals only with nerve pathway problems. These include fibromyalgia; neck and back pain without a significant structural problem; migraine and tension headaches; and most chronic abdominal and pelvic pain syndromes like irritable bowel syndrome and interstitial cystitis.

There are four parts of treatment for a nerve pathway problem:

1)  Education
It is difficult to overcome a nerve pathway problem unless you understand it fully. Educate yourself about nerve pathways (see the reading list below). It is critical for your healing to understand that a structural physical disease is not the main reason for your pain and that you can get better! If you believe that, then you are on the road to recovery.

2)  Behavioral interventions
Meditation can help soothe the mind and calm fears. Since these nerve pathways start in the brain, it is also possible to relieve pain by reprogramming the brain. This can be done by talking to the pain and telling it to stop! If you are forceful and firm, you can retrain the nerve pathways. Since nerve pathways are learned, they can be “unlearned” by repeatedly challenging the symptoms and taking control over them. It is a “mind over brain” technique and is very effective.

In addition, if the pain has “triggers,” such as movements, activities, foods, or weather changes, challenge those triggers to unlearn them. Decide that the triggers will not control you anymore and create powerful affirmations (positive messages) to overcome them. Each day when you have pain or when you face pain triggers, tell yourself “I am healthy and strong. There is nothing seriously wrong with me. I can be pain free and I will not let this stop me. Pain, go away. I don’t need you and I don’t want you.” The more forceful words you use, the better. Then continue with your activities.

3)  Emotional interventions
Emotions are often the key to unlocking chronic pain. Most people with chronic pain have deep emotions that have been held in, such as anger, guilt, fear, or sadness and loss. Recognize these emotions and deal with them. Therapeutic writing is often good method for resolving feelings. An emotion-based psychotherapy known as Intensive Short-Term Dynamic Psychotherapy (ISTDP) is also a very effective process created by Dr. Habib Davanloo that is now being taught and practiced around the world. More information on this technique can be found in Unlearn Your Pain (see Resources below).

4)  Life changes
Many people need to make changes in their lives. If you are trapped in a relationship that is hurtful or destructive, something needs to be done to ease or resolve the situation. If you are on bad terms with people you love, this situation may need to be changed. If you are stuck in a work situation that is overwhelming or overly stressful, that may need to be changed. Take a close look at your life and see if there are some issues that should be addressed and seek help to find solutions for them. These issues are often key towards solving a chronic pain problem caused by learned nerve pathways.


Back in Control by David Hanscom, M.D.
Unlearn Your Pain by Howard Schubiner, M.D.
They Can’t Find Anything Wrong! by David D. Clarke
Healing Back Pain, The Mindbody Prescription, and The Divided Mind by John E.Sarno, M.D.