Chronic Pain

Treating chronic pain with EMDR

If you’re living with chronic pain, such as chronic lower back pain, have you ever been told that “it’s all in your mind?”, did this sound like “you’re imagining it?” (even if that’s not what was intended). 

Health professionals sometimes don’t explain clearly enough what they mean by this, which can be confusing as, for you, the pain feels very real – it’s in your lower back, your shoulders, neck, your legs – it impacts on your sleep, your mood, your relationships, career. You can’t move about as before, you’re stiff and sore. That’s why you came to see the doctor in the first place.

In one sense, all pain is “in the head” as it is the brain which decides to feel pain or not, but this does not mean the pain is not real, or that you are somehow “imagining” it: the brain contains a body map, with a pain sensor corresponding to each area of the body (your right little finger, lower back, shoulder etc.).

With chronic pain (pain lasting longer than 12 weeks), the pain system of the brain and nervous system, receives so many repeated messages that it becomes over sensitised to pain, starting to register a signal as “painful” when there is much less actual damage or potential damage and eventually, when there is no harm at all to the body.

The pain-signalling neurons get stuck in the “on” position, leaving you feeling pain long after the original tissue damage has healed. This is called neuropathic pain.

EMDR works with chronic pain at the level of the nervous system and the brain, in neuropathic pain, where the brain continues to signal pain long after the physical damage to the body has ceased, it can be as if one part of the brain thinks the damage continues, while another area knows the body has healed and the pain signals can be switched off.