The human body is not as logical as you would expect, it is wired for survival and efficiency first. This means that your body may activate pain as soon as it senses a threat, regardless of if we are actually in danger versus just feeling stressed. When we get stuck in the pain cycle, it can be difficult to reverse which is why pain needs to be addressed holistically so we can function optimally!
The pain cycle includes sense, emotion, and thought. Image via https://drmartinschmaltz.com/
I want you to imagine if you had to spend time with a person who constantly lost their temper and raised their voice. This would trigger the limbic brain, and at some point, you may stop listening or avoid them altogether. You may figure out how to navigate this, but realistically, if this behavoir isn't actually healed; the aggression may just shift somewhere else. Even if the yelling stopped, you would remember the behavoir of the past and come to expect it. Scientifically, it would take 12 positive interactions in which you weren't attacked to 1 negative, for you to not continually expect and prepare for a negative experience.
How does functional pain work?
Functional pain works the same way, except you are the person yelling at yourself. Pain is your nervous systems way of telling you that it senses danger and you need to take time to heal. When we ignore this, we develop sensory-motor amnesia, and the body will dull the signal to one part and start sending pain signals elsewhere - this is what makes functional pain such a puzzle. By the time pain has become chronic, we have likely ignored our impulses for a long time to the point that our signals turn from whispers to screams and shift around the body.
We need to rebuild trust in our bodies
In class, I ask that you never move into or through pain, but instead pause and make the movements smaller, or do them in your mind. This is so we can re-teach our pain system that we are listening and that it's safe to stop screaming at us. If you have been living with chronic stress and pain for an extended period of time, it will take your body time to rebalance out of chronic fight or flight (sympathetic overload). Additionally, this looks like not pushing through pain, not speaking to ourselves in abusive ways and changing environments that trigger our stress.
Where you feel pain, is not necessarily the origin
Sensory-Motor Amnesia can create a ping-pong table like effect of pain signals throughout your body's system. You may notice that when you relax your side waist, that the pain in your lower back disappears and vice versa, this is because the brain-body connection is not logical, it's chemical. When we feel stressed at work our pain may flare up because the body senses danger and want's to communicate the need for change. This is why it's important to integrate a somatic movement routine that gently activates the muscles and relaxes them progressively.