For many athletes current and retired Chronic Pain can impact their lives in so many ways. It can leave athletes feeling depressed, anxious and at times over-medicating. Chronic Pain can also alter the brain in ways that keep athletes mired in negative moods and emotions.
CHRONIC PAIN AND THE BRAIN
Chronic pain can change the way the brain functions. Brain imaging shows that people who have chronic pain often have high activity in the thalamus, which is part of the limbic system that is the brain’s emotional center. Too much activity in this region is associated with depression.
It has also been known to cause overactivity in an area of the brain called the anterior cingulate gyrus (ACG). This area of the brain acts like the brain’s gear shifter. When it is healthy, it helps you go from one idea to another. When it is overactive, you tend to get stuck on worrisome thoughts. It also indicates low levels of the feel-good neurotransmitter serotonin. When serotonin is low, people tend to be obsessive, moody, and inflexible. This can also result in getting stuck on thoughts about your pain and perceived hopelessness.
CAN YOU GET YOUR BRAIN UNSTUCK?
Even though chronic pain can alter the way your brain functions, it does not have to be permanent. If you’re suffering from chronic pain, medication may be recommended, but there are also many holistic and natural ways to calm an overactive limbic system as well as an ACG that is working too hard.
5 Ways to Balance the Limbic System
- Supplements: Mood-supporting supplements like SAMe and fish oil support healthy limbic system function.
- Acupuncture: The ancient medical art of acupuncture has been shown to help with pain and mood, and brain imaging studies show it calms the limbic system.
- Neurofeedback: Studies suggest that this treatment, in which brain- wave activity is measured and then optimized through training, can help with pain and mood.
- Strengthen your social bonds: Surrounding yourself with supportive people who make you feel good can help keep negativity at bay.
3 Ways to Balance the Anterior Cingulate Gyrus
- Supplements: The supplements 5-HTP, saffron, inositol, tryptophan, St. John’s Wort, or omega-3 fatty acids higher in DHA are the most helpful for raising serotonin levels and calming this part of the brain.
- Thought stopping: Learning to stop the obsessive, worrisome thoughts that loop in your head is key to gaining control over your thinking.
- Nutritional interventions: Complex carbohydrates (such as sweet potatoes and garbanzo beans) and foods rich in L-tryptophan (such as chicken, turkey, eggs, and nut butters) can raise serotonin levels.
Using a combination of these strategies—supplements, acupuncture, social bonding, and more—to balance the brain and address pain often can produce favorable results.
At Pure Sports Recovery our advanced neuroscience integrative programs for athletes incorporate many of these modalities and others, We help athletes get off sidelines of life and back in the game.