Healing from Chronic Pain: The Science of Neuroplasticity

I’m Peter Winslow, a health and life coach in private practice. I experienced first-hand the healing power of the human body when I recovered from the pain and symptoms of a chronic autoimmune disorder called Ankylosing Spondylitis, or AS.

It’s important to point out that the word “chronic” when applied to disease means that doctors and drugs cannot cure it. AS is considered to be “incurable” because there isn’t a medical treatment to reverse it. Yet people have recovered from this and other chronic conditions through the healing power of their own bodies. How is it possible? Neuroscientists say it happens through a phenomenon called neuroplasticity.

Webster’s dictionary defines neuroplasticity as “the ability of the brain to form and reorganize synaptic connections, especially in response to learning or experience or following injury.”

Wikipedia says:

“Neuroplasticity is an umbrella term that describes lasting change to the brain throughout an individual’s life course. The term gained prominence in the latter half of the 20th century, when new research showed that many aspects of the brain can be altered even into adulthood. This notion contrasts with the previous scientific understanding that the brain only develops during early childhood and from then on remains mostly unchanged.

Neuroplasticity can be seen at multiple levels, from changes in individual neurons to larger changes such as cortical remapping in response to injury. Behavior, environmental stimuli, thought, and emotions also cause neuroplastic change which has significant implications for healthy development, learning, memory, and recovery from illness and injury.”

So behavior, environmental stimuli, thought, and emotions cause neuroplastic changes. That is where natural recovery from chronic pain begins.

–Peter Winslow

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The Placebo Effect

peter winslow (life coach)I’m Life coach Peter Winslow. In an interesting bit of science news, research studies found in medical journals have reported that there are anti-depressant medications on today’s US market that register no measurable results in clinical trials. It has been accepted that a “placebo effect” is responsible for all the benefits that the retail users of those medications reported to their physicians.

You likely realize that the placebo works only because you believe it will. The placebo effect happens when you think a neutral substance will have a positive effect on you and just because you believe it, it really does.

In modern medicine, there have been studies conducted on the effects of placebos for decades, reporting confirmed cases of the placebo effect in action. One of the more astonishingly invasive studies from 1959 conducted by the National Institute of Health concerned a “mammary artery ligation” procedure used as a cure for angina pain.

The heart surgeon makes an incision in the chest and ties off two arteries, causing an increase in blood flow to the heart. The cardiologist hired for the study performed “sham surgeries” in which 8 out of 17 patients got incisions and stitches, but nothing else. 100% of patients who got the sham surgeries reported being cured.

Such invasive studies are not as common today, but are still being done. In 2002 at the VA Medical Center in Houston, 180 patients with osteoarthritis in their knees were treated with either arthroscopic procedures to remove damaged cartilage or placebo surgery which simulated arthroscopic surgery by making an incision but not removing any cartilage. After two years, and not being told who did and who did not receive the “real” surgery, there were no differences between the placebo and non-placebo groups. Every patient reported improvement in pain and in the ability to use their knees.

Dr. Bruce Moseley, the orthopedic surgeon who performed the surgeries reported: “I was initially very surprised… I could not imagine anybody suggesting that anything we do in surgery would benefit from the placebo effect. I associate placebo effect with pills. In my simple explanation of this outcome, the magnitude of placebo effect is directly proportional to the patient’s perceived intervention.”

In light of this information, you won’t find me volunteering for any surgical clinical studies.

– Peter Winslow

How the Mind Creates Stress Part Two

How the Mind Creates Stress Part Two
How the Mind Creates Stress Part Two

Hello, I’m life coach Peter Winslow, and the topic is stress and stress related illness. Let’s get right to it: in the short term, emotional stress can cause headache and pain, upset stomach, and heart palpitations. When our emotional traumas remain repressed or ignored, they can lead to ill conditions such as chronic autoimmune disorders. Heart disease, hypertension, obesity, alcoholism, drug abuse, fatigue, depression, and some cancers are just a few of the many common ailments attributed in part to chronic stress.

When under stress, the onboard survival mechanisms in the body can “hijack” the brain in response to a deadline, a dreaded phone call, an argument, or even just a scary thought. That’s why people can sit at a desk all day, and by the end of the workday feel exhausted, like they just ran a marathon. They simmer in a steady flow of stress hormones day after day and pay a heavy price for it.

Of course, stress is a subjective condition, meaning it’s not measured by the same yardstick for everyone. Some people thrive on stress while others run from it. One person’s idea of a good time can be terrifying to others; think bungee jumping, cage fighting, bull riding or drag racing. Staggering stress is an exciting thrill ride for some. For others it’s cardiac arrest.

In this way, we’re all fairly unique. The cells and tissues in our bodies hold the memories of past traumas, which are physical, emotional, and even ancestral in nature. Over time, it can take more extreme exposure to achieve the same “rush” we used to get from an exciting activity. Or the opposite can happen; the build-up of stress in the body can cause a host of problems, including chronic illness.

–Peter Winslow

How Your Mind Creates Stress

How Your Mind Creates Stress
How Your Mind Creates Stress

Hello, I’m life coach Peter Winslow. Lately we’ve been learning about stress and how it can cause severe illness and disease. Now let’s look at a definition. Wikipedia defines stress this way:

“Stress refers to the consequence of the failure of an organism— human or animal—to respond appropriately to emotional or physical threats, whether actual or imagined.”

Did you get that? Stress is not only caused by an actual threat, it’s also caused by nothing more than your imagination. As a life coach, I hear many examples of this from my clients on a daily basis.

Know why some people cry when the hero tragically dies during a movie? They know perfectly well that nobody really died, but their subconscious minds respond to the stimulus as if it were real. This is because the subconscious mind cannot tell the difference between what is real, and what is vividly imagined.

This is critical information to take advantage of if you’d like to improve your health. And by the way, without this inborn subconscious function, going to the movies wouldn’t be nearly as much fun!

We know that stress is a mental state that creates an emotional response in the body, which means it’s a mind-body phenomenon. And what is an emotional response? Emotions are electromagnetic signals sent out from the brain to communicate a particular message to the body at the cellular level. Then, neurochemicals and hormones kick in to provide what we feel in response to the mental information we’re busy processing.

Medical textbooks state that over 90 percent of all illnesses in the U.S. are due to stress and other mind-body factors. This means that nine times out of ten, there is an emotional stressor underlying the disease. Worry, frustration, anger, resentment, unworthiness, loneliness, anxiety, depression, and other emotional factors are known to cause the symptoms of stress, and lead to stress-related illness.

–Peter Winslow