The human nervous system is a natural wonder.  In fact there is not a day that goes by where I don't find myself amazed by all the processes that are continuously handled so deftly by this grand system.  However, modern neuroscience has begun to show that the vigiliance of this system combined with it's self-maturing predictive system can make for an imperfect and imprecise entity at times.


When it comes to pain, my go to metaphor for the central nervous system (CNS) is in the role of the Presidential Secret Service / Chief of Staff.  Your conscious mind is the President deciding on what to do and how to do it at a high-level.  The President might say he wants to travel to see the Mayor of Miami.  The Secret Service is obliged to do this in the safest and most efficient manner possible while coordinating with the Chief of Staff.  Right?

In a similar fashion, your conscious mind (the President) decides to pickup a sock off the floor. Your hand reaches out and down toward the sock; neck and spine flex - rounding the back; hips flex as the hamstrings lengthen; the hand reaches the sock and you grasp it; hamstrings shorten - extending the hips; neck and spine extend and straighten; you are back to standing.

The Chief of Staff component of your nervous system coordinated everything beautifully - directing about a hundred muscles to execute a relatively simple task.  The Secret Service component was there too.  During this entire movement it said, "How dangerous is this?"  In fact it asked this broad master question continuously every step of the way!  The Secret Service component also considered the many facets of information through subset questions.  Questions like:

  • Have we done this act before?
  • Have we done it this way before?
  • Have we been in this environment before?
  • What state of being is exhibited at present (mood, energy level, immune response, stress response)?
  • What relevant memories are associated with this particular act?
  • What are the tissue sensors reporting?

Each subset question can contribute to the overall threat level for concluding the broad master question - "How dangerous is this?"

Based on a research study with professional musicians, a threatening occurrence to a violinist’s left hand is likely to produce a higher intensity pain experience than the right due to more precise requirements of the left hand and fingers to play their cherished instrument.
— paraphrased from a lecture by Dr. Lorimer Moseley, PhD

Upon evaluation of the subset questions and their contribution to the overall threat level, the CNS chooses to create an experience of pain as a warning to the conscious mind about this possible problem.  The intensity level would be dictated by the level of threat as contextually perceived by the CNS

As you may have deducted the questions could be (and likely are) far-reaching.  For instance with threat detectors reporting a threat, follow up questions could be, "Has this threat occurred before?"; "What was the outcome?"; "Are there any conscious fears with this act to be safe guarded?"  With a history of threats to the human organism, we could see that the Secret Service could (and likely will) become more vigilant with it's job of protecting.  Protecting could be in the form of increased pain intensity and/or muscle tissue response (If you are the slightest concerned of heights, you may have experienced uncontrollable muscle rigidness as the CNS implements protection measures to maintain diligent balance while on top of high vantage point).

I find having an understanding of the relationship to which the CNS is protector through the metaphor of the President / Secret Service / Chief of Staff is a useful one for managing pain, One can make conscious changes about one's thoughts to help shape and influence a possible painful outcome and it's subsequent resolution.  

If you have any questions about the idea of metaphor for pain, ask away in the comments section below or contact us directly.