Persisting pain is one of the most burdensome healthcare problems for people all over the world, yet most people don’t have an accurate understanding of what pain is and why it sometimes persists. The Brain Bus is a novel outreach approach currently touring regional NSW. Its intention is to help people gain a better understanding of pain through participating in activites conducted in a learning in a lab on wheels.
Experiential learning is a way for people to engage all their senses in grasping a difficult new concept, and make sense of complex new information. This guest post is from Dr Tasha Stanton, a Senior Research Fellow at the Body in Mind group based at the University of South Australia.
I study sensation and the changeable nature of the brain – or bioplasticity. In particular, I am interested in the role of perception in chronic pain, and the way this perception can be altered.
The Body in Mind research group I work with has been leading global research in the field of understanding pain for over a decade. Despite our best efforts, the growth in the scientific knowledge hasn’t necessarily made it to the clinics that treat chronic pain or to the people that suffer from chronic pain.
About the research
Research has repeatedly shown that high-quality, evidence-based education is a critical treatment, in and of itself, for chronic pain. Good pain education is fundamental in helping people to understand why they hurt, that is, why their protective system (e.g., pain) is being so protective.
Understanding that you are being over-protected, not further injured, is critical.
Then it makes sense that you can be sore but safe while doing activities and it helps reduce the fear and anxiety that is often present when pain doesn’t go away.
Together, education and movement help people to gradually increase their activity and reengage in their daily lives. Understanding pain also helps chronic pain suffers better communicate their experience with the people around them.
Pain education sounds like something that’s simple to do, but it is not.
Trying to reshape or reconceptualise very well-entrenched beliefs about pain (e.g., the amount of pain I feel relates only to how badly I’m injured) is difficult despite support from scientific evidence.
One particular challenge when trying to explain the role of the brain in pain is that people can misinterpret this and think we are saying that pain “is all in their heads”. While somewhat true (we wouldn’t have pain if we didn’t have a brain!), the main message is actually that our own brains are constantly weighing up all credible evidence of danger and safety around us, and if the balance is in favour of danger, we feel pain.
Another challenge in pain education is that health professionals often lack the required knowledge of pain science and skills as educators (or critically, lack access to this training) to be able to help people understand and make sense of their pain, and this is part of the reason that we have such problems with treating chronic pain.
What happens in the Brain Bus?
The Brain Bus has content for everyone!
For those who like to just look and see, there are pictures and videos of illusions. There are amazing pain stories to read and interesting information you should know about scans and pain.
If you are an adventurous sort, we have body illusions that you can try as well as a virtual reality set-up for you to experience a new world – and how that impacts the way you move.
If you are the curious sort and/or struggle with pain and would like more information about its treatment, our education table will be set-up with brochures that you can take home. We will also have various health professionals there that you can talk to.
We look forward to seeing you soon!
Where to find the Brain Bus
The Brain Bus is touring NSW and will be visiting these towns in April 2018:
- April 11th Wollongong
- April 12th Nowra
- April 14th Canberra
- April 15th Cooma
- April 17th Albury-Wodonga
All the location details can be found on the project website at www.painrevolution.org/brainbus
Guest post by Dr Tasha Stanton of the Body in Mind group (pictured above) based at the University of South Australia.