Casey, a local teenager, has stumped every doctor he’s seen. Since developing severe stomach pain during his freshman year of high school, Casey has seen dozens of physicians, had countless procedures, and undergone multiple surgeries. None had any impact on his debilitating pain. “There’s no pain medication that will suppress this,” says Casey’s father, “How many specialists do you go through before you think you’re at the end of the line?” —
Alan Gordon, USC Professor and Director of the Pain Psychology Center in Beverly Hills, sees things differently. “Casey’s physicians haven’t been able to find the cause for his pain,” Alan says, “because they’ve been looking in the wrong place.” Recent studies, Alan explains, are finding that many types of chronic pain are not caused by structural problems in the body, but rather by neural pathways in the brain. He emphasizes that while the pain is indeed very real, conditions such as headaches, irritable bowel syndrome, fibromyalgia, and most back and neck pain can be overcome by rewiring the brain’s pain pathways.
Alan is among a growing number of pain physicians and psychotherapists who are treating chronic pain from this perspective. Howard Schubiner, M.D., who has conducted several landmark studies on the treatment of pain, explains, "It is very difficult for both doctors and patients to understand that pain, even severe pain, can be caused by the brain."
Alan was recently featured on the CBS TV Show, ‘The Doctors,’ where he explained the source of Casey’s pain. “Pain is a danger signal,” he says, “it helps to alert us when we get injured. But sometimes these danger signals are activated and essentially get stuck.”
In Casey’s case, the pain began during a stressful time in his life—the transition to high school. The pressures of an increased workload, grades, and anxiety over athletic eligibility all took a heavy toll. "There was so much fear," Alan explains, "that the danger signals in his brain were activated, resulting in excruciating pain…it isn’t a coincidence that his initial attack came on the day of his first high school baseball game."
After many misdiagnoses, failed treatments, and unsuccessful surgeries, Casey’s family finally had an answer that made sense. When asked what he felt after learning about this new treatment approach, Casey responded with a single word; the one thing he's been chasing for the past three years: "Hope."
Alan Gordon is the Executive Director of the Pain Psychology Center in Beverly Hills, CA, and an Adjunct Assistant Professor at the University of Southern California. He has presented on the topic of pain treatment at conferences and trainings throughout the country, and has authored publications on the treatment of chronic pain. He is the author of the forthcoming book, Breaking the Pain Cycle: Reprogramming Your Brain to Heal Chronic Pain.
Name: Christie Uipi
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Organization: Pain Psychology Center
Address: 9777 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1007, Beverly Hills, CA 90212
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