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Winding Roads

Pain and The Brain 

Mind-Body psychotherapy for chronic pain, anxiety, and stress-related illness
Calm the Mind, Heal the Body, and Get Back to Living

A Greater Boston Area Therapist

Recent studies in pain neuroscience have uncovered that many painful physical conditions aren't necessarily rooted in actual tissue damage or illness. Instead, they often stem from a psychophysiological process, leading to a hypersensitized central nervous system. This discovery has paved the way for innovative, evidence-based psychological therapies that go beyond conventional coping strategies. These therapies target the core issue, making it possible to significantly reduce or even eliminate symptoms that were once believed to be incurable.

The Brain's Warning Signals

Pain and various stress-related symptoms serve as warning signals masterminded by the brain to alert us to potential dangers. These signals stem from our stress response system, often referred to as fight,flight or freeze. This is a beautiful yet primitive brain system critical to our survival. Typically, if you accidentally burn your hand, your brain triggers pain, prompting you to swiftly remove your hand from harm's way. Similar warning signals include anxiety, stomach discomfort, increased blood flow/racing heart, and muscle tension. Our stress response system is designed to turn off when a threat has passed; accompanied by downtime to conserve body functions. However, in a hypersensitized fear state, the brain can make prediction errors. It might overinterpret normal physical sensations as painful and emotional distress as a threat to physical safety. For many this prolonged stress results in a central nervous system in a constant state of heightened alertness, and uncomfortable physical symptoms become chronic.


The Pain-Fear Cycle

Most individuals with chronic pain develop a natural pattern of hypervigilance and activity avoidance. This pattern is known as the pain-fear cycle. While it's intended as a self-protective mechanism, this cycle inadvertently reinforces pain and leads to the creation of more ingrained neural pain pathways. Many individuals living with chronic pain describe their lives as progressively shrinking as they eliminate activities that once brought them purpose and joy. They also begin to perceive themselves as broken or damaged.  More ordinary daily activities become extremely difficult for them to perform.  

A Closer Look at Chronic Pain

Building upon this evolving science, the International Classification of Diseases, Tenth Edition (ICD-10) introduced two new diagnoses in 2020: chronic primary pain (CPP) and chronic secondary pain (CSP). CPP is defined by the World Health Organization as "pain that persists for longer than three months, is associated with significant emotional distress or functional disability, and cannot be explained by another chronic condition." On the other hand, CSP occurs when pain initially emerges as a symptom of physical disease or injury but continues beyond successful treatment. Examples of these conditions include chronic neck and back pain, ongoing muscle pain and tension, fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome, chronic fatigue, tension headaches, migraines, and many more. It's essential to note that this same process can exacerbate symptoms of chronic medical conditions.

Dr. Leavell: Your Partner in Massachusetts for Pain Relief

For Massachusetts residents seeking relief from these challenges, Dr. Leavell, a dedicated therapist, is here to assist. Through evidence-based approaches grounded in the latest pain neuroscience, Dr. Leavell provides support tailored to your unique needs. Together, you can explore innovative strategies to break free from the grips of chronic pain and regain control over your life.


Don't let pain define your existence. Take the first step towards a pain-free future today and contact Dr. Leavell.  You may also click here to see what therapy services are offered to Massachusetts residents.  You may also call her at 781-777-3167.

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