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Blog 5: The Plastic Brain

The brain has been discovered to be plastic. Not Tupperware plastic but neuroplastic meaning the brain has the ability to change and form new pathways over the course of a person’s life. We can train our brain in the direction we desire, hence why everyone is keeping their brains active doing daily Sodukos to avoid deterioration and risk of Alzheimer’s disorders. The plastic nature of our brain can result in negative outcomes however, like in chronic pain. Our brain rewires based off our own experiences and if these experiences involved danger, damage and risk the brain insures you respond in a way that is protective ie. Pain and fear avoidance.

Let’s use the back as an example. Any past experience associated with your back contributes to the way your back is today. In my own example, my brain remembers I hurt my back on a rowing ergo so every time I sit on a rowing ergo my back starts to ache and tighten up- that’s before I even start rowing. Kind of annoying really knowing my back should be able to tolerate the load since the injury was years ago and I can run, jump and squat, meaning my back can definitely tolerate the load of using a rowing machine for a few minutes. This demonstrates the power of the brain and how this past experience has created strong neural pathways to prevent me from rowing in the future. So how do we change this?

We know how brain is plastic so surely we can reverse these strong negative ties caused by our previous experiences. I propose two actions to help do this.

  • Start to associate your back with positive experiences. Think of all the awesome things you do where your back feels good. Eg. A social activity where you are distracted and don’t notice the pain or a purposeful activity aimed at relaxation or pain relief like massage, spa or a heat pack. If you start to associate your back with all of these positive experiences, new neural pathways will be created and strengthened which can only improve future outcomes in back pain.
  • Desensitise the situations you associated your back negatively towards. De-sensitising could be as simple as taking a deep breath to increase relaxation prior to the activity, using gradual exposure, playing calming music or doing the activity with a friend. In my case, I used my best mate Spikey to massage my back muscles prior to using the rowing machine and gradually built up my time from 30 second intervals- which I have now built up to 10 minutes with zero back pain.

Make the most of the plastic nature of our brain and start flooding your brain with positive experiences associated with your source of pain- you can’t change what has happened in the past but you sure can take actions to control the future.

Please hit me up if you have any questions or comments. This stuff fascinates me and would love to chat to anyone who feels the same.

Claire Samanna

E: claire@tailoredhealth.com.au

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