Cincinnati Children's

Growing Through Knowing

How the Brain Feels Pain

  • Pain signals travel from the nerves to the spine to the brain. Many factors influence how we feel pain.
  • Belly pain may be a result of overactive nerves in the gut telling the brain to feel pain.
  • Imagine that there are gates that let pain signals through or block the pain from reaching the brain.
  • When the gates are open, you feel more pain; when the gates are closed, you feel less pain.
  • Many factors (i.e., medication, distraction) can influence the gates and how much pain you feel.
  • Your thoughts and feelings can affect how much of the pain signals get to the brain.

How Thoughts and Feelings Influence How We Feel Pain

  • Events → Thoughts → Feelings and Behaviors
  • Example: You have belly pain (event), think “this will never get better” and feel angry or sad.
  • Behaviors: Your body may start to tense up, and your belly may even hurt worse.
  • You may be less able to concentrate on things like schoolwork or having fun with friends.

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Things We Can Do to Help Us Deal with Pain

  • Try to do things you enjoy even when you feel pain. Physical and social activities can really help!
  • Don’t over- or under-do activities. Try to build in breaks to rest, recharge and relax.
  • If you catch yourself thinking negatively about pain, try to think positively. For example, you can tell yourself, “I can cope with this” or “Things will get better soon”.
  • Keep healthy habits. Get enough sleep, eat healthy, keep hydrated, and exercise regularly.
  • You can use relaxation techniques to help calm your body and your mind.

Parent Guidelines for Dealing with Pain

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  • Encourage your child to manage his/her pain independently.
  • Eliminate frequent status checks – do not repeatedly ask about pain or how bad it is.
  • Encourage normal activity during pain episodes (e.g., going to school, playing with friends).
  • If pain leads to a reduction in activity (i.e., school absences), let your child quietly rest, (e.g., no games or special treat-ment).
  • Follow your doctor’s recommendations for taking medications. If you are still having trouble, let your doctor know.

How Relaxation Can Help

  • Using relaxation can decrease the tension in your body and help the pain feel better.
  • Below you can listen to Deep Breathing and Guided Imagery recordings to help you relax.
  • Try to practice a few minutes of relaxation every day, even if you are not having pain.
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