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How We Sense Danger

Updated: Mar 26, 2023

Ah pain, that is all I seem to write about... For good reason. Lower back pain (LBP) has been the leading cause of disability since 1990 and the prevalence of pain (back, upper limb, and lower limb) has been found to increase as family income decreases in relation to the Federal Poverty Level.

If anything, this makes a case for the why of chronic pain and questions if we are treating it as effectively as we could be.

First, let's look at why we have pain. Did you know that we are evolutionary designed to experience pain in order to keep us safe from danger? If you've read my previous posts you likely have an idea, but let's look closer.

We develop different traits to keep us safe and alive. Like anxiety. This helps to keep us very aware of threats in our environment. Maybe you are in a jungle and you have the knowledge that there are dangerous snakes in the trees. You will become more anxious while walking under certain trees that you likely know snakes love to hang out in, this keeps you safe because you will be looking and listening more closely for that threat.

Or maybe you are experiencing fatigue. From an evolutionary standpoint, this signals that you've been working too hard, or your immune system is fighting a virus. This gets you to slow down and rest so that you can recover.

Have you ever experienced nausea or puking after an adverse reaction to something? Then felt the same nausea again in seeing the thing that previously triggered it? Maybe you ate some bad shrimp at dinner a few months back and had a bad, and memorable, reaction. Next time someone tries to serve you shrimp, you are likely to say no. This can be a good thing if you've been exposed to eating a poisonous mushroom or other food. Nausea can keep you safe.

Or what about itchiness? That is designed to keep bugs and parasites away from us, like keeping ticks from settling in and having a meal.

Even depression is designed to keep us safe and allow us to fight another day. Imagine you are in a physically life threatening battle with an enemy and it is looking like they are definitely going to win. You lose your energy and motivation to continue fighting. This reaction allows you to live and maybe come back another time for another battle.

As I've talked about in previous posts, sometimes this danger signalling goes a little haywire and tries to keep us from harms that are not as life threatening. Like nausea after seeing Kraft dinner after an unrelated connection to being nauseous during pregnancy, or depression after a poor mark in school, or chronic fatigue after a year of life stress.

As much as I've been focusing on movement related pain affects us and how we can work with that aspect, I am now learning more about our traits and how they also lead to a dis-regulated nervous system and chronic pain. When the nervous system and/or brain sees danger, it reacts with pain to keep us safe.

But the question is, what if that trait lasts for longer than 3 months and the physical threat is no longer, but we are still in pain? How do we treat that?

I've been taking the Pain Reprocessing Therapy course and there is a way out (just like the book, The Way Out) of chronic pain. It takes practice and sometimes isn't easy as we are evolutionarily wired to believe that pain is a signal of tissue damage & danger. As I said, sometimes the nervous system and brain have become too protective and now send signals as the smallest thought or worry. So where does that leave you and your pain?

Let's chat and see if we can build you a path back to wellness!

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