New-row…what? Tag…? I know the price tag, name tag…but what is a ‘Pain Neurotag’?
There are billions of neurons in your brain. Each neuron can form connections with other neurons in order to send signals to specific destinations, or to amplify these signals. As a group of associated neurons grows, so does its ability to spread messages throughout the brain.
Neurotags (aka Neural representation) are a network of brain cells and neurons that correlate to a particular sensation or feeling that you experience. They are distributed across multiple brain areas, working in sync to produce outputs (i.e. response or reaction), once they are activated.
Neurotags allow your experience to spread throughout the brain via networks. There are 2 types of neurotags:
- Modulator — they only have effects within the brain
- Action — they cause an effect beyond the brain (i.e. pain or response)
Neurotags can exist as emotions, memories, and environment, etc.
Try to imagine walking past a fried chicken stall that is always playing your favourite song…
Over time, you will begin to associate the song with the smell of fried chicken. If this creates a really strong association, just hearing your favourite song may make you crave for fried chicken. This specific association would be the neurotag for this specific experience.
To simplify things a little, meet Jack.
At work, Jack regularly bends forward to carry boxes. By doing so, his brain creates a network of nerve connections — aka neural tags.
One day, Jack sprained his back while he was getting scolded by his boss. Now, everytime he bends forward, he feels discomfort and pain. The connection formed between forward bending and pain is now strengthened in his brain. It is as though a network of pain neurotags is being activated.
His neurotags may look something like:
- Body position: Standing
- Movement: Forward bending
- Related objects: Boxes, boss
- Environment: Work
- Psychological: Stress to meet deadlines, cluttered house
His brain has connected the dots (or rather, tags) to make sense of the whole experience and his pain signals are heightened to protect him.
Even after his back has fully healed from the sprain, he may still experience pain when he bends forward at work to pick up an item (i.e. a piece of paper). However, when he repeats the same movement at home, he does not experience any pain at all. Perhaps, even the mere sight of a box may fire off his neural network, as he associates that sight with his boss. This may then also translate to pain in his back.
From his memory and previous experiences, Jack has formed an association between:
- The motion of bending forward
- His boss
- The cause of his back pain
Therefore, everytime he bends forward at work, his brain interprets it as a threat to his back and starts firing pain alarm signals. To protect his back, Jack may then avoid the motion of forward bending.
Due to the formation of these neural connections, one may become avoidant and fearful of these movements.This fear avoidant behaviour strengthens the connections further as the brain gathers valid evidence that these movements are a threat to you.
The good news is that you can modify your neurotags!
Since factors such as emotions, beliefs and environment affect the ‘modulator’ pain neurotags, you will need to address them specifically, in order to achieve a desirable effect on your ‘action’ pain neurotags. You can regain control over your pain experience and adopt a positive routine by increasing activity, and gradually exposing yourself to movements that were previously perceived as a ‘threat’. In the process, you will be working towards your personal goals and rethinking your perceptions of pain.
Can Physiotherapy help with persistent pain?
Yes! Your Physiotherapist can help guide and manage your pain holistically. We will seek to understand your story, and look into your movement patterns. From there, we will advise on, and integrate specific active coping strategies catered to your lifestyle needs or demands.
Book now or give us a call to schedule an appointment to see our Physiotherapist who will be able to partner you to recovery to address your pain.
Tata, J. (2016, May 19). What is a Pain Neurotag? Integrative Pain Science Institute. https://www.integrativepainscienceinstitute.com/pain-neurotag/.
Wallwork, S. B., Bellan, V., Catley, M. J., & Moseley, G. L. (2016). Neural representations and the cortical body matrix: implications for sports medicine and future directions. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 50(16), 990-996.
Filed under: Pain