Pain and a symphony orchestra

7 min. reading time

If something is difficult to predict, it is long-lasting pain. Usually pain that have lasted longer than three months. One day you can exercise well and it doesn't seem to aggravate the pain, another day you can do (almost) nothing. Sometimes you have a lot of pain after a certain activity, another time it doesn't seem to get any worse. How is this possible?


What we have discovered in the meantime is that there can be many reasons why the pain can occur at unpredictable moments. A certain memory, thought, activity or even smell can cause your pain system to become (over)active!

A comparison that can give more insight into this is that of the symphony orchestra. If the orchestra rehearses a melody often, it gets better and better. All members of the orchestra practise the piece so often that they can almost dream it. The sheet music is almost no longer necessary and the whole orchestra can play the piece more and more beautifully and exhilaratingly.


In each of our brains there is also a kind of 'symphony orchestra'. When we cycle the orchestra plays the bicycle melody, when we work the working melody and when we sleep the sleep melody. When we are in pain, the orchestra plays the pain melody. 

Every time you are in pain, the orchestra plays the pain melody and it gets better at playing that melody! So good, in fact, that only the triangle has to sound and the rest of the orchestra already picks up the melody. And so the figurative triangle can be compared to, for example, a negative thought about pain ('As long as it doesn't get any worse when I....').

The longer we are in pain, the better the orchestra learns to play the pain symphony. In order to reduce pain we will have to teach the orchestra to play other melodies!

symphony orchestra pain

A new melody

Suggesting that your orchestra plays the pain symphony (again) is a good first step. Think about which melody you want your orchestra to play to suppress the pain melody! This works best when:

  1. The other activity requires a lot of attention from you
  2. Your other activity gives you pleasure
  3. You have to get moving for the other activity, or you have to be very creative

In short, to teach your orchestra the pain symphony helps it to get in motion or take up a (creative) hobby. If it gives you pleasure, the orchestra is even faster at the new melody! And the longer the orchestra can't practice the pain symphony, the worse they get at playing it. Which in turn has a positive effect on your pain.

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