The Damaging Effect of Chronic Pain on the Brain

The Damaging Effect of Chronic Pain on the Brain

Chronic pain can impact your life in so many ways. It can rob you of the activities you once loved and leave you feeling depressed and anxious. It can also alter your brain in ways that keep you mired in negative moods and emotions.

That’s what happened to Sam, a 38-year-old police officer. After three car accidents, he had pain that didn’t go away, even after six back surgeries. The pain was so intense, he was practically bedridden, and his family was about to leave him. He couldn’t stop thinking about the pain, and believing he had no way out, Sam attempted suicide. It was only after that attempt that Sam sought help to find out what was happening in his brain.


Chronic pain can change the way your 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.

Sam also had marked 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 caused Sam to get stuck on thoughts about his pain and his perceived hopelessness.


Even though chronic pain can alter the way your brain functions, it doesn’t have to be permanent. If you’re suffering from chronic pain, medication may be recommended, but there are also many 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.
  • ANT Therapy: Challenging the ANTs (automatic negative thoughts) that infest your mind can help you gain more control over your feelings and behavior.
  • 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.

Sam used a combination of these strategies—supplements, acupuncture, social bonding, and more—to balance his brain and address his pain. After a month, Sam said his back still hurt, but he was much less focused on the pain. He was able to get out of bed and go back to school to start training for a different line of work.

Don’t let chronic pain keep you on the sidelines of life. At Amen Clinics, where Sam was treated, brain SPECT imaging is performed as part of a comprehensive evaluation for people with chronic pain as well as symptoms of depression or obsessive thoughts. The Amen Clinics Method takes an integrative approach to diagnosis and treatment to help balance the brain utilizing the least toxic, most effective solutions so you can stop focusing on the pain and start living again.

To find a path to help you feel better fast, call 888-288-9834 to talk to a specialist today or schedule a visit.


  1. My husband of 44 years is suffering from not only pain due to ME, SI joint pain and a chronic lung disease, but also severe depression and anxiety. He had a mental breakdown in 2008 and since then has had a few times when the problem of the ME was in remission. I am asking if this is something, all these issues, that you can help him with?
    If so, please let me know with the cost involved.He has standard Medicare and United Healthcare for his gap plan.
    Thank you .
    Connie Bird

    Comment by Onnie Bird — September 1, 2019 @ 1:01 PM

  2. Onnie, people don’t usually answer questions on their pages like this. I am so sorry and you and your husband are having to go through this, it is so hard mentally and physically. I looked up a page with some facts about his treatments, one person said the ADD treatment was $4,000 and worth every penny, even if insurance wouldn’t cover it, so it is expensive. I am putting the link below I hope you find a way for your husband to feel better

    Comment by barbara williams — September 13, 2019 @ 6:30 AM

  3. Onnie, Barbara is correct about the price. You can get a discount when you listen to their podcast which by the way is excellent. I think its 10 percent off. Anyway, the 4k gets you two scans and a thorough evaluation from a board certified psychiatrist and in my case also had a speciality in neurology. I know its expensive but it is worth it. It is a two day/three day process. You don’t have to pay all of it up front. You can book an appointment with 500 dollars and pay the rest when you go. Its worth it as Barbara said.

    Comment by Angelica Minjarez — September 13, 2019 @ 7:20 PM

  4. Do you think these things would help my son?
    He has Central Pain Syndrome from a hemorrhagic stroke?

    Comment by Nancy Beer — September 16, 2019 @ 2:24 PM

  5. Why not make the scan affordable? I have been a nurse for 30 years and don’t know anyone who could pay 4,000$ out of pocket. I was so excited when I heard about the Amen clinics and thought maybe a scan would be 400$, which would be a hardship but doable, and then found out the truth. Do you ever do clinical trials for free? Scholarships? Interested in the brain of a Crohn’s patient without large intestine or spleen? Just saying, so many more people could be helped if it was more affordable.

    Comment by Helen Love — September 20, 2019 @ 3:33 AM

  6. I found this article very helpful
    I am suffering from chronic pain as a result of having been in two car wrecks
    six months apart.
    The cars took sufficient impact to total them and we were hit from the rear
    It left me with significant cervical and thoracic problems.
    My sleep, despite a CPAP, is nonrestorative as the pain wakes me up during the night
    and sometimes so bad that I finally throw in the towel and get up.
    it leaves me with days which feel like I am walking underwater.
    My life has turned into a nightmare where I don’t want any social contact and
    getting things done at home is almost impossible.
    AND now to add to it, I have tendon issues along the outside of each knee, behind the knees
    and halfway down the calves on the outside of the shin area.
    I recently saw a sports medicine physician who Rxd PT for six weeks (twice weekly) but
    I did not discuss the rest as my concern now is my mobility which has been
    severely impacted by these tendons
    This is a brand new issue that came out of nowhere. All was fine until
    Thanksgiving and then it was not.
    Earlier I had done a lot of walking on a trip not only May but later in October with
    just the neck/thoracic area to deal with……….

    Comment by Rosalee Adams — January 5, 2020 @ 1:22 PM

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