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Neuroplasticity And The Brain

Brain Neuroplasticity

Neuroplasticity can lead to positive and negative changes within our brain. If we want to learn to be more optimistic or grateful, we can practice skills that enhance these connections in our brain e.g., gratitude journaling, reframing negative thought patterns, practice the 5 good for every 1 bad we see in people. By practicing these skills daily, it can help shift the negative bias within our brain.

“Success is the sum of small daily efforts, repeated day in and day out” (Robert Collier)

Neuroplastic challenges

Neuroplasticity means our brain is constantly learning, evolving and changing. The consequence of this is that whatever we repeat – thoughts, feeling, behaviors – will change the connections and structure of our brain. The challenge is our brain cannot distinguish what is good or bad, helpful or unhelpful. Factors which can change our brain include traumatic events, chronic illness, chronic stress, social interactions, meditation and other relaxation activities, emotions, learning, paying attention, new experiences, diet and exercise.

Our ability to learn, allows us to change, evolve, adapt, critically think, analyze and move through our life. Strengthening commonly used thoughts and skills, allows us to access this information “freeway” quickly. It allows us to protect ourselves, use our strengths, master hobbies, access memories, strengthen relationships, progress in our work. It is part of what differentiates us from other living creatures.

Neuroplasticity and chronic pain

Some neuroplastic changes occur beneath our awareness and control. One such change is being studied widely in pain medicine and is known as sensitization. This is a phenomenon associated with changes at the nervous tissue which amplifies pain signal transmission to the brain.

Central Sensitization

Our central nervous system includes our brain, spinal cord and nerves. Central Sensitization is a condition in the nervous system responsible for the development and maintenance of chronic pain. Central Sensitization occurs when the nervous system starts to adapt adversely to pain signals. This occurs after prolonged stimulation of the nociceptors (pain receptors) and leads to changes in how we process pain signals. The nervous system goes through a process known as “wind up” which includes high reactivity of our “warning system” to less stimulus (activities, sensations) and amplification of pain signals: the volume on pain is turned up and more pain is felt.

This increased sensitivity can also apply to other bodily processes:

  • heighten sensitivity to odors, sensations, vision, sounds and taste

  • increased emotional distress, anxiety, fear and stress

The two main characteristics of Central Sensitization are:

  1. Allodynia – things that hurt, now hurt more

  2. Hyperalgesia – things that didn’t hurt, now do

Changing the trajectory

There is ongoing research into how we can slow, halt and even potentially reverse the trajectory of central sensitization. Dr Moskowitz author of the “Neuroplastic Transformation – Your Brain on Pain” describes how there are 16 areas in our brain that “light up” when we experience pain. There are 9 areas located in the conscious part of our brain (the cerebral cortex) that dedicate roughly 5% of nerve cells to process pain, this increases to 15-25% in chronic pain. Chronic pain spreads the areas of the brain that concentrate on pain, increasing pain’s significance and importance. What Dr Moskowitz has learned from his study into pain, is that strengthening the function of these “pain” areas within the brain with other functions (not pain), will strengthen the importance of “non-pain” related functions, prioritizing them over pain.


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