All pain is “in your head.” Every pain impulse has to be interpreted by your brain as pleasant, neutral or unpleasant. It is a complex process that involves comparing present with past experiences. There are millions of bits of information being processed every second. Although your emotions do affect the perception of the pain, the pain is never imaginary and it is not “psychological.” What happens with repetitive impulses is that your nervous system lays down pathways that become very efficient. It is similar to the learning of a skill by an artist, musician, or athlete.
One of the first books I have my patients read is a book called The Talent Code by Dan Coyle. He has done a wonderful job of looking at the factors that create genius. It is a growing observation that genius is rarely born. It occurs after about 10,000 hours of repetition. However, it is repetition of “deep learning.” The other two factors are “ignition” (obsessive repetition) and “master coaching” (laying down the correct pathways).
The reason that I recommend his book is that he correlated the learning of a new skill with the last five years of neuroscience research. It has become clear that the brain can create new connections at any age. The term for this phenomenon is neuroplasticity. Coyle makes a case that the substance in the brain responsible for these pathways is myelin. It is secreted by cells surrounding the nerves and can be roughly compared to the insulation around an copper wire. The thicker the myelin, the more efficient the pathway.
Whether you buy the argument that myelin is responsible for the creation of neurological pathways or not, it is helpful to conceptualize that the brain does respond to repetition and does somehow form pathways. I believe that pain pathways are laid down in a similar manner. As pain is always associated with anxiety and frustration those pathways are also reinforced.
It takes many thousands of swings for a major league baseball player to be able to hit a baseball coming at him over 90 mph. There is also a huge variation in speed and trajectory. I think is one of the most incredible feats in the human experience. In chronic pain, you probably receive a lifetime of “baseball swings” in a matter of weeks. The intensity and frequency of pain I feel can lay down the pathways quickly.
It is critical to conceptualize your pain and respond to the pain in terms of programmed pathways. Using re-programming tools, you can create “detours” around the old pathways and they do not have to include pain.