Picture these two scenarios:download

1) You have just been rejected for a date with someone you’ve been very fond off….(sad face)


2) Your last rep of your deadlift; has left you with a stabbing sensation in your lumbar spine…

Why have I asked you to think about the two contrasting scenarios? Do you think they can be interrelated?

YES! Pain can be driven emotionally and physically!
The feeling of rejection, or mechanical irritation in a exercise lights up the same area in brain, the Anterior Cingulate Cortex (ACC). In fact a study by Eisenberger and colleagues (2003) participants were placed in functional MRI and asked to playing a game against a partner. It showed that when the participant experienced “social rejection”  because their partner stopped playing,  the ACC lit up.

And then you watch  ‘that guy’ at your local gym, who lift’s weights rather poorly (to use more kinder words). He looks like he might snap his spine in half every squat. You scratch your head and wonder, “how the heck do you not get pain?”.

That is the complexity of pain ladies and gentleman. Pain is specifically, biologically innate to protect the organism of threat and danger. One’s organism has a highly sophisticated computer (Thalamus) that relies on multiple pieces of stimuli and memory to decide whether or not danger is present. Now; this happens faster than you you can cognitively process. Remember the last time you burnt your hand? Did you have to think about pulling your hand away? No way! A-Delta nerve fibers reflex your hand away from danger. And the latent onset of pain is due to your C-Fibers (thermal and chemical). And don’t get me started on the Periaqueductal grey matter and free nerve endings:/

So; by now you can see pain is complex. And pain is needed for the survival of the organism. So why do 1 in 5 Australian’s (including adolescents) and 1 in 3 over the age of 63 experience chronic pain? Research has been looking closely at a important inhibitory neurotransmitter (GABA) and again your sophisticated computer the Thalamus. You can say there is a disconnection with specific communicative pathways in the brain (Thalamocortical rhythm). To put this in easy Spanglish, your brain learns to poorly discriminate, what is danger and what is not. And hence how chronic pain sufferers have widespread symptoms such as Fibromyalgia, with question marks over one’s etiology.

Let me teach you how to keep your Thalamus happy.
It is all about your well being and immunity!

There is increasing evidence in a growing field (psychoneuroimmunology) that shows that well being and lifestyle influence our immunity and susceptibility to illness.  In research, endotoxin’s are used intravenously to increase inflammation (without a pathogen) to study the behavior of organisms (including humans). What I’m getting at, is psychologically/metabolically healthy individuals were imunosupressive to the endotoxin. So not only were there increases in pro-inflammatory’s (IL-6, IL-10, TNF), but  the participating individuals did not get SICK. Pain, especially when chronic is highly inflammatory. And thus being psychologically stressed, obese, lacking social connection and the big ONE lacking physical exercise can increase pain signals.

Have I answered your questions? Probably not.
Why? Because there is no magic pill.

Science is learning more about genetics and so forth. The big BUT is…. that your well being is so important. Social connection, nutrition, mindfulness and of course EXERCISE are going to keep your vagus nerve happy and an abundance of serotonin and oxytocin to keep the chronic pain away.


James Smith




Eisenberger , NIE, 2012. The pain of social disconnection: examining the shared neural underpinnings of physical and social pain.. Nat Rev Neurosci. , 2012 May 3;13(6), 421-34.

Henderson , LA, 2013. Chronic pain: lost inhibition?. J Neurosci, 17, 0174-13.

Lasselin, JL, et al., 2016. Well-being and immune response: a multi-system perspective. Current Opinion in Pharmacology, 29, 34–41.