Pain ON, Pain OFF – Controlling Persistent Pain.
Finally we begin to reveal the secret…
Our body possesses a wonderful natural system of dealing with pain. We all know this and we always have.
Everyone has a story, or knows a story of a time when someone sustained an injury, but felt no pain at the time, or only discovered they were injured when someone told them – or the crisis was over.
There are stories of soldiers at war rescuing their wounded mate, only to discover that they too are wounded when they arrive back at the base.
People ascribe this to the power of adrenaline but it is not adrenaline, it is something more important called the “descending pain modulating system” or the “descending pain inhibitory system”. We also have what is called an “endogenous opioid system” where the body creates its own painkillers. We have been aware of these mechanisms since about 1906 but not known how to activate them until now.
Persistent pain sufferers may also recognise times when the pain is less. If for example, they are distracted or deeply absorbed, distraction is a well- documented way of managing pain and underpins some of the more obvious uses of Virtual Reality. It is hypothesised that distraction may work simply by overwhelming the brain sensory input, ‘clogging the sensory bandwidth’ and not allowing the pain through. It may however also activate the descending pain modulatory system (DPM).
Meditation or mindful diaphragmatic breathing may also activate the DPM.
There is also some idea that exercise (any exercise) may help activate this system; it certainly helps release a number of pain-killing chemicals.
Most interestingly of all, humans possess what they call a “mirror neuron system”. This allows us to feel empathy – it also allows us to experience others’ pain for example that feeling that you get when someone shows you the stitches on their wound or describes what happened in an accident. It is also the reason why we flinch when we see a big ‘hit up in a football match or why we duck when we watch boxing. Our nerves get triggered by watching other people’s activities.
The general theory is that we have an “ascending pain system” – a pathway that pain travels from the periphery to the spine and up to the brain, and that we have a “descending pain modulating system” that originates in the brain stem and goes down into the body. This modulates or inhibits the pain signal to the brain either reducing or stopping it. There are many complicated theories (both electrical and chemical about how this works) and what activates it. One theory of persistent pain is that it develops because the descending pain modulation system misfires and therefore lets all pain through.
Keeping it simple – we have always known that the body can manage its own pain, we have not always known how to do it. We have not always, and still don’t, understand the exact how and why of it. Up until now, although we could ‘switch somebody’s pain off’ by distracting them or showing them a film, or putting them in a VR environment, the pain returns after they leave the environment.
This is where the Tranceducer™ and CognitiVR™ come in. The Tranceducer™ uses VR as an immersive distraction – the research indicates that simple immersion in a VR environment has analgesic effects (stops pain). The Tranceducer™ however, also generates an embodiment experience where the person fully identifies with the VR avatar self. This means we can change the way the brain experiences the body (there is a blog coming on embodiment). The Tranceducer™ also engages mirror neurons as it is a virtual “mirror box” (more on this later). In short, we pull on all the levers to engage the descending pain modulation system and make the pain go away. These changes occur at both the experiential level and at the level of brain functioning.
CognitiVR™ helps train the person to retrain their system so that it stays away.
Our device is ready, our patents are pending, our product and process are TGA registered our Clinic is ready to open – we have sadly been delayed by COVID – but are hopeful of opening as soon as legally possible in Sydney