The Common Causes of Chronic Pain

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

Chronic pain is a huge health issue for many people, but those who suffer are often unaware of what’s really causing it. In this episode of The Brain Warrior’s Way Podcast, Dr. Daniel Amen and Tana Amen illuminate some of the more hidden causes, such as emotional trauma or inflammation, and then give treatment options.


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Dr Daniel Amen: Welcome to The Brain Warriors 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 Warriors 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 Warriors 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 Warriors Way podcast. Stay tuned for a special code for a discount to Amen Clinics for a full evaluation, as well as any of our supplements at

Welcome back. Today, we're going to continue a little bit along the lines of what we talked about in the last one. We talked about social isolation. You mentioned something in our last chat about how our pro-inflammatory diets are causing a problem. They're causing people to socially isolate. They're causing people to be sick. We know that they're causing people to be sick, but they're also causing chronic pain. We also mentioned in the last podcast that chronic pain causes people to socially isolate.

Dr Daniel Amen: It's sort of a vicious cycle.

Tana Amen: Women are far more effected by this chronic pain issue.

Dr Daniel Amen: Because they have lower serotonin levels.

Tana Amen: Right and there was a very big survey taken over 24,000 women that experienced chronic pain. What they found was most of them had experienced childhood trauma; more than half. Here's what they found: 44% who experienced emotional abuse, 35% bullying, 28% sexual abuse, 24% witnessed violence, 23% physical abuse and 17% death of a parent. There is a huge connection between emotional trauma and chronic pain. What was really interesting was that more than 50% of those women refused to acknowledge that their chronic pain had anything to do with their childhood trauma. Part of that was because they did not want to be labeled a victim and the other part of it was because they did not want anyone to tell them that it was all in their head. They were afraid that someone was going to say it's all in your head. It is kind of in your head but not in a bad way.

Dr Daniel Amen: What does this remind you of?

Tana Amen: Are you trying to say it reminds you of me?

Dr Daniel Amen: Don't you remember our first conversation?

Tana Amen: Why do all of these come back to me?

Dr Daniel Amen: What was our first conversation? January 1, 2006.

Tana Amen: I am a bad you know what. I'm so tough. You're sitting there psychoanalyzing me and you're like ...

Dr Daniel Amen: I wasn't psychoanalyzing you.

Tana Amen: He was totally psychoanalyzing me.

Dr Daniel Amen: I was just analyzing you.

Tana Amen: Right. Same thing.

Dr Daniel Amen: We're both psycho.

Tana Amen: You were psychoanalyzing me. You're sitting there going well, don't you think there's a connection between this and your childhood? I'm like no.

Dr Daniel Amen: Having upper GIs from the time you were four and chronic pain.

Tana Amen: Yeah and I'm sitting there like no, I don't think it has anything to do with anything.

Dr Daniel Amen: I'm like well, what happened when you were four?

Tana Amen: I'm like oh, dear lord. I knew I shouldn't have gone out with a psychiatrist. That's what I was saying to myself.

Low back pain is the number one chronic pain reported.

Dr Daniel Amen: What happened when you were four?

Tana Amen: You mean when my uncle was murdered?

Dr Daniel Amen: Minor thing.

Tana Amen: This is a slippery slope.

Dr Daniel Amen: Right but you know what we're talking about.

Tana Amen: Oh, I do.

Dr Daniel Amen: That emotional trauma ... What we see in the brain but it's not just the brain. What we see in the brain is when people have been emotionally traumatized, they get this, we call it the diamond pattern where ...

Tana Amen: And I had it.

Dr Daniel Amen: ... their emotional brain activates and a part of that is an area called the insular cortex, sort of like the word insulated. It's in between your frontal lobes and your temporal lobes. It's activated in PTSD and that's actually where we feel pain.

Tana Amen: This is really important and this is one of the reasons why when we were first dating I fell in love with your work because there was no way I was listening to a psychiatrist. Let's just face it. I almost canceled my first date with you.

Dr Daniel Amen: Awesome.

Tana Amen: Let's just be honest here. I was no way going to listen to a psychiatrist. I basically thought you guys were all nuts. When I-

Dr Daniel Amen: There is some truth to that.

Tana Amen: Right. You wanted to scan me. You had your own agenda for that, for seeing my naked brain but I actually thought it was really interesting, this idea of brain scan.

Dr Daniel Amen: I didn't want to fall in love with you if you were going to make my life a living hell.

Tana Amen: Right. Yeah, this is his own little agenda. I actually thought it was a really cool idea and I thought what he did was so different. When I saw my scan and I saw that diamond pattern, there's actually a way to see trauma. I was like wow, that's like super cool. That's when I believed you. That's when I actually started to believe you and I'm like okay, he's not your average coocoo dude that's just psychoanalyzing me.

Dr Daniel Amen: Right. When you see trauma, one of my first gifts to you was 10 sessions of EMDR, which is a specific ...

Tana Amen: Which I fell in love with.

Dr Daniel Amen: ... psychological treatment for trauma. We have to get back to chronic pain but-

Tana Amen: I need to finish that because it's really important because the EMDR was super helpful. I started doing the EMDR, and first of all, that was another issue was that I actually was completely against the idea of therapy, but when I started doing the EMDR, I loved it and then I continued it for like two years. Why are you laughing at me?

Dr Daniel Amen: Just because it's so easy.

Tana Amen: I continued it for like two years. I have to tell you. It was so helpful, so helpful and it helps chronic pain. When someone tells you it's in your head, don't take it wrong. It actually is your emotional centers are all fired up.

Dr Daniel Amen: Right, which makes whatever pain you have worse.

Tana Amen: Chronic pain worse. Right. It's legitimate.

Dr Daniel Amen: If you want to learn more about EMDR, go to and you can learn all about it. It's a treatment I've studied. I'm a huge fan of it and it can actually decrease chronic pain because it decreases the emotional charge that's going on in your brain.

Tana Amen: It was awesome.

Dr Daniel Amen: Interesting story for me is when I first started doing imaging. I was on call and a police officer, his name was Steve, tried to kill himself the night before. He had been in chronic pain. He had multiple accidents as a police officer. He was just done with the pain and he tried to kill himself. When I scanned him, his cingulate gyrus was freaking on fire. That's the area of the brain ... it's your gear shifter. It lets you go from thought to thought, move from idea to idea, be flexible, go with the flow. When it's overactive, people get stuck on negative thoughts or negative behaviors.

Just by random chance, if you believe in random chance, there was an article in The American Journal of Psychiatry that said that Prozac calmed down the cingulate gyrus. I put him on Prozac. I mean today I'd probably put him on some nutrients that would increase serotonin in his brain but if they don't work I'll put him on Prozac or something like it. He got so much better. I mean it was just a dramatic turn. What he said was he said I still hurt but I don't think about it all the time.

Tana Amen: Right, you don't get stuck.

Dr Daniel Amen: It was the obsessive thinking that really caused him to try to kill himself because he wanted to get away from it.

Tana Amen: Right. First of all, let's point out that the most common complaint for chronic pain is low back pain, followed by migraines and it sort of goes on from there. Let's talk about ... because we know we've got an opiod epidemic in the country. We know some of the more typical ways that people try to treat chronic pain, which is with medicine. Let's talk about some alternatives. We talked about EMDR, which I think is freaking awesome.

Dr Daniel Amen: If there's been any emotional trauma, EMDR is really important. Hypnosis, incredibly powerful.

Tana Amen: Yes and meditation. Just the best. They actually have found mindfulness meditation, it's where you actually like slow down your focus on breathing. You allow your thoughts to just sort of come in and you sweep them away with a broom and you don't judge them but you increase your awareness of your body, pay attention. Sort of scan and notice where it's painful. Breathe into that area. You sort of breath into the area where there's pain. What I do is I'll sort of breathe in light, breathe out pain. Breathe in light, breathe out pain. Do it very slowly. Do diaphragmatic breathing.

Dr Daniel Amen: Hypnosis, meditation ...

Tana Amen: Prayer.

Dr Daniel Amen: ... diaphragmatic breathing, prayer. The supplements that I really like for pain; omega-3 fatty acids.

Tana Amen: Things that decrease inflammation.

Dr Daniel Amen: They decrease inflammation. Curcumins because they decrease inflammation. We have a new product called brain curcumins because we just found the best source.

Tana Amen: And you don't like curry.

Dr Daniel Amen: And I don't like curry and SAM-e. The supplement SAM-e, there are dozens of studies showing it helps decrease pain, especially osteoarthritis. It's better to take a holistic approach. The problem with opiates is they decrease it in the short run but increase it in the long run.

Tana Amen: The problem with things like taking NSAIDs or like Advil longterm is they can damage your stomach lining. None of these things come without side effects. There's also lots of other things you can check out like acupuncture, or for me the chiropractor. I go to my chiropractor for back pain. I love the chiropractor. They do something called cupping, which I have found to be extremely helpful and I have no idea why.

Dr Daniel Amen: Which is what Michael Phelps did in the last-

Tana Amen: I have no idea why it works but it just works.

Dr Daniel Amen: Because it increases blood flow.

Tana Amen: It's awesome. I know you're going to disagree with me on this.

Dr Daniel Amen: I don't agree.

Tana Amen: I know and I know you're going to disagree because-

Dr Daniel Amen: I have no idea what you're going to say but why not? Let's just start there.

Tana Amen: He is the yin to my yang, but because it's an emotional release for me, I just love going to karate but it's an emotional release.

Dr Daniel Amen: Yeah but if you're damaging bones that are damaged.

Tana Amen: I have to adjust what I do. No question. It feels really good. If you need an emotional release, go to yoga or do something like that but know your body and know your personality type.

Dr Daniel Amen: you know what you need to do? you need to get virtual reality glasses where ...

Tana Amen: No, it's not the same.

Dr Daniel Amen: ... you're doing all of this in your mind ...

Tana Amen: No.

Dr Daniel Amen: ... but it's not damaging your vertebrae ...

Tana Amen: You need to just be able to do it.

Dr Daniel Amen: ... that are already broken.

Tana Amen: They're not broken.

Dr Daniel Amen: What are they then?

Tana Amen: They're just sort of twisted. I have scoliosis.

Dr Daniel Amen: Right but didn't you say when you had the MRI that you actually had some vulnerabilities?

Tana Amen: I have vulnerabilities, yes. I've adjusted what I do. I have adjusted.

Dr Daniel Amen: Well, we've learned that the active doing it in your imagination is the same effect of actually doing it. You should just try it.

Tana Amen: No, I want to hit something.

Dr Daniel Amen: Well, as long as it's not me, I guess we're fine. When people took our Brain Warriors Way course that's available online, significant decreases in pain because they were decreasing the pro-inflammatory diets that they were doing. Plus, they got all these other awesome ways of taking care of their brain.

Tana Amen: Yep. So much fun.

Dr Daniel Amen: Stay with us.