Managing Chronic Pain: Coping Tips For Relief

Dr Daniel Amen and Tana Amen BSN RN On The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast

Living with chronic pain is one of the worst experiences one can have, and it can even lead down the path to thoughts of suicide. However, there are proven methods for easing that pain and regaining control over your life. In this episode of The Brain Warrior’s Way Podcast, Dr. Daniel Amen and Tana Amen discuss the common causes of chronic pain, as well as the most effective strategies for bringing relief.


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Dr. Daniel Amen: Welcome to the Brain Warrior's Way podcast. I'm Dr. Daniel Amen.

Tana Amen: And I'm Tana Amen. Here we teach you how to win the fight for your brain, to defeat anxiety, depression, memory loss, ADHD, and addictions.

Dr. Daniel Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way podcast is brought to you by Amen Clinics, where we've transformed lives for three decades using brain SPECT imaging to better target treatment and natural ways to heal the brain. For more information, visit

Tana Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way podcast is also brought to you by Brain MD, where we produce the highest quality nutraceutical products to support the health of your brain and body. For more information, visit Welcome to the Brain Warrior's Way Podcast.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Today we're going to talk about pain, physical pain, and the impact physical pain has on the brain.

Tana Amen: Especially chronic pain. Like when people ... Not just acute pain when you hurt yourself, but when it's chronic and ongoing. It's like that just never goes away.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Well, and when I was in college, I played intramural football, not where you got your head bashed in. Loved football in high school, even though it didn't love me back. And I always played quarterback. And I was running around the right side and I planted my foot and all of a sudden I heard a big pop within my right knee.

Tana Amen: Ouch, and it still bothers you.

Dr. Daniel Amen: And it swole up, and that was 40 some years ago.

Tana Amen: And it still bothers you.

Dr. Daniel Amen: And it still bothers me. But I know that if I take omega-3 fatty acids, if I take 1200 milligrams of SAM-e, if I stay on an anti-inflammatory diet, and I stay away from airports and planes, which is hard for me to do, that it doesn't bother me nearly as much. So that there are things to do and there are things not to do.

Tana Amen: So there's a reason. So let's back up. It really is worth mentioning why. Everything you just talked about that you avoid in order to feel good increases inflammation. So I have the same problem. I have scoliosis. Now, as long as I stretch and sleep and exercise and eat well and do all these things, my back pain doesn't really flare up. When I don't do those things, you even can feel my back and you're like, "Wow, your back's kind of out of whack." And it hurts. It hurts bad.

So inflammation flares up when you eat poorly, you eat a high sugar diet or a diet high in omega-6 fatty acids, when you don't sleep, when you travel a lot, when you're under stress. All of those things increase your inflammation. Any time inflammation is high, it's going to cause your pain to flare. It's going to make the pain worse than normal.

Dr. Daniel Amen: All right. So let's talk about causes of pain, and cures. And let's do it in a biopsychosocial spiritual way, which I think is just how we think here at Amen Clinics and how you and I teach often. So the biological causes of pain would be trauma, car accident, sports injury. I did, still do, the big NFL study, and almost all of my players have pain and they live with chronic pain.

Tana Amen: Right. Sometimes it's disease, sometimes it's some structural you're born with.

Dr. Daniel Amen: But they live with chronic pain. It's their shoulders. It's their hands. It's their-

Tana Amen: Right.

Dr. Daniel Amen: So clearly, biological people have migraine headaches.

Tana Amen: Sure.

Dr. Daniel Amen: But what are the biological causes of pain? Trauma, inflammation. Which a lot of people don't know about. It could also be an allergy to a food. To something in the air.

Tana Amen: When histamines are released in your body.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Right.

Tana Amen: Structural.

Dr. Daniel Amen: It could be structural like scoliosis. It could be osteoporosis. My mother sneezed last year and she bent over and sneezed and literally broke a vertebrae in her back. She's like, "I'm going to run my car off the road." I'm like, "You're going to be okay. We're going to get you fixed."

My sister was in the room right before the Dr come in. She goes, "I want to know what mom said." And I said, "I'll tell you later." "No, I want to know now." I'm like, "They're going to send her to the funny farm." It was crazy. But pain literally makes you want to kill yourself.

Tana Amen: No, it's horrible. No, no, no. When you're in chronic pain, it is terrible.

Dr. Daniel Amen: One of the things I learned, right after I started doing imaging, I had a police officer who was admitted to the hospital under my care. His name was Steve. He tried to kill himself because he had six back surgeries and he was so done with the pain and the pain medications and tried to kill himself.

When I scanned him, his cingulate gyrus. That's right in the front part of your brain, deep in your frontal lobes. Was working incredibly hard. That's the brain's gear shifter. It allows you to go from thought to thought, move from idea to idea, be flexible, go with the flow. I had just read an article that SSRIs, medications that increase serotonin-

Tana Amen: It's like Prozac.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Calm down that part of the brain, Prozac, Lexapro, Zoloft, Celexa, Suboxone and so on. I put him on that and did hypnosis. Extremely powerful for pain.

Tana Amen: I love hypnosis.

Dr. Daniel Amen: I didn't know then what I know now, I'd have put him also on Sam-e and Omega-3 fatty acids and put him on an anti-inflammatory diet. But just the hypnosis and Prozac, he said, "I still hurt. But I don't think about it all the time." So the reason he tried to kill himself is he could never get away from the pain.

Tana Amen: He was obsessive. And that cingulate.

Dr. Daniel Amen: From the thought of the pain.

Tana Amen: Doesn't the cingulate make you obsess about it?

Dr. Daniel Amen: Yes.

Tana Amen: Like you just can't let it go.

Dr. Daniel Amen: You can't let it go.

Tana Amen: Right.

Dr. Daniel Amen: So that's a physical cause and treatments for pain. There are also psychological causes for pain. We know people who grew up in abusive homes, for example, they have more physical pain.

Tana Amen: Isn't that so interesting?

Dr. Daniel Amen: Their pain tolerance is less and the more negative thoughts you have, the lower your pain tolerance. Because you're predicting it's going to be worse. The prediction actually causes your muscles to clamp down.

Tana Amen: That's so interesting.

Dr. Daniel Amen: And it makes it worse.

Tana Amen: And doesn't that also release stress hormones, which increase inflammation and makes it worse anyways?

Dr. Daniel Amen: It does. So psychological and biological all work together.

Tana Amen: Right.

Dr. Daniel Amen: There are social causes of pain. I think some of the deepest pain that people feel are when their relationships aren't right.

Tana Amen: Right. Or when they lose someone or something. Even a pet sometimes. You just see people grieve so deeply over something or someone they've become attached to.

Dr. Daniel Amen: And emotional pain actually lights up the physical pain centers in the brain. It's very interesting, it's called the anterior, this mean towards the front, insular cortex. When that is lit up, people have a sense of angst, of negativity.

Tana Amen: Yeah, it's really interesting. So we had a series of break-ins in our neighborhood. It freaks me out. So I did some very interesting things to secure my house. So when the guy was putting some cameras in and then doing some things, he's like, "This is good. If you've got things to protect." And I'm like, "You know. I really don't have things to protect."

There's really, we are not people who buy a lot of things. We don't have a lot of things. We're not really into a lot of material things. I think the most I have is my wedding ring. But there's just not a lot of stuff that we're really that invested in.

But I get incredibly anxious and stressed out at the idea of anyone I love being hurt. That will make me stay up at night. That's a very powerful thing. When someone loses someone, or the thought of losing someone can be very stressful.

Dr. Daniel Amen: And then there are spiritual causes of pain. If you're not living your moral code. Or if you feel separated.

Tana Amen: Or if you're morally bankrupt.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Or you're morally bankrupt. You're more likely to have higher levels of pain. When we think of treating pain or helping people with pain, biopsychosocial spiritual interventions.

Tana Amen: This is even true with people who aren't purposeful. No one really thinks about that. But when you're not purposeful, purposeful people live longer. Which means that they are living more vibrantly. It means you are sick less.

Dr. Daniel Amen: When I think of spiritual, I think of it in the form of a cross. Which is so the horizontal line is your connection with the past, so my grandfather. Or the future, we just found out my daughter is going to have her third child.

Tana Amen: I know, so cute.

Dr. Daniel Amen: It's going to be a little girl, called Haven. I'm so happy. It's a spiritual experience, my connection with the past and the future. The vertical line is my connection with the planet. The healthier the planet is, the healthier I am with God, what you believe in God.

Tana Amen: I've actually never heard you say that. That was very cool.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Thank you.

Tana Amen: I like that.

Dr. Daniel Amen: So when [crosstalk 00:10:43] end up spiritual, I think of your past, your future, the planet, to God.

Tana Amen: Have I ever told you, you're really smart?

Dr. Daniel Amen: Thank you. That's how I got you.

Tana Amen: I'm kidding. You hear it all the time.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Biological interventions for pain. You've heard this all along. When you teach your classes on getting people well. One of the most common things they say is their pain has gone down. When we talk-

Tana Amen: Within two weeks. Within two weeks their pain goes down.

Dr. Daniel Amen: When we taught the Brain Warrior's Way, the long version, the 26 week version, people decreased their pain by 20%. It's really powerful.

Tana Amen: Yeah, it starts fairly quickly.

Dr. Daniel Amen: I think it's mostly diet related.

Tana Amen: But it's interesting though. Because as their diet begins to clean up, they start to sleep better. As they start to sleep better, their stress is better, they manage stress better. We teach them some simple meditation techniques and then all of a sudden they're able to manage their diet better. Do you see, it's like this circle.

Dr. Daniel Amen: This is so important. Because the opiate crisis is killing 60,000 people in the United States.

Tana Amen: Crazy.

Dr. Daniel Amen: And in large part, it's because we take the quick way out of dealing with pain. And we don't put in a biopsychosocial spiritual plan to help people that are in pain. 'Cause we're going to run out of time. Other biological things, clearly diet is really important, anti-inflammatory diet. Omega-3 fatty acids. SAM-e. Decrease cortisol and stress, like you said.

Tana Amen: And I know we say this over and over and over for different reasons. I cannot stress enough, a simple five to 10 minute meditation. It is one of the most powerful things I have learned.

Dr. Daniel Amen: And people would think that's a psychological intervention.

Tana Amen: No, it's all of it.

Dr. Daniel Amen: It's actually a biological intervention.

Tana Amen: I actually think it's a little bit of all of it.

Dr. Daniel Amen: It is. And then of course killing the ANTs, the automatic negative thoughts. Negative thoughts cause increased tension immediately, which then will clamp down around nerve cells and cause you to be in pain.

Tana Amen: Right, very much has a physiological reaction.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Work on improving your relationships, because I clearly have less pain when we get along, compared to when we don't.

Tana Amen: For sure.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Thank God we get along most of the time. And then make sure you're living with purpose, that you're connected with your past and honor the people there. That you're nurturing the future. That you're nurturing the planet and keeping connected with God. You can feel better by having a clear biopsychosocial spiritual approach to pain. Stay with us.

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