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Pain and a symphony orchestra

7 min. reading time

If anything is hard to predict, it's long-lasting pain, which is usually pain that lasts longer than three months. One day you can exercise well and it doesn't seem to make the pain worse, the other day you can do (almost) nothing. Sometimes you have severe pain after a certain activity, other times it doesn't seem to get worse. How is this possible?

What we have since found is that there can be many reasons why the pain can occur at unpredictable times. A specific memory, thought, activity or even smell can cause your pain system to become (over)active!

A comparison that can shed more light on this is that of the symphony orchestra. When the orchestra rehearses a melody often, it gets better and better. All members of the orchestra practice the piece so often that they can almost dream it. The sheet of music is almost no longer necessary and the whole orchestra can play the piece more and more beautifully and buoyantly.

There is also a kind of "symphony orchestra" in our brain. When we ride a bicycle, the orchestra plays the bicycle melody, when we work, the work melody, and when we sleep, the sleep melody. When we are in pain, the orchestra plays the pain melody. 

Every time you have pain, the orchestra plays the pain melody and it gets better and better at playing that melody! So good, in fact, that only the triangle needs to be sounded and the rest of the orchestra is already picking up the melody. And so, for example, the figurative triangle can be compared to a negative thought about pain ("The main thing is that it doesn't get worse when I....").

The longer we have pain, the better the orchestra learns to play the symphony of pain. To reduce pain, we need to teach the orchestra to play other tunes!

symphony orchestra pain

A new melody

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

  • The other activity requires a lot of attention from you
  • The other activity gives you pleasure
  • The other activity requires you to move around, or be very creative

In short, to teach your orchestra the symphony of pain, it helps to get moving or take up a (creative) hobby. If you enjoy it, the orchestra will be even faster at the new tune! 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.

Pain and a symphony orchestra