We all know that brain damage can have significant effects on our bodies and our lives. But scientists are now learning more about “neuroplasticity,” and the ways in which our body chemistry can physically alter our brains after an injury.
The brain is made up of billions of neural cells, and each cell has many arms called “dendrites,” which it uses to signal and communicate with other brain cells. Neuroplasticity shows that our brain cells can move their arms, and even extend new arms, to make new connections.
Often, this is a positive thing: after a brain injury, neuroplasticity can allow uninjured parts of the brain to take on new responsibilities, like re-learning to speak or walk.
But neuroplasticity can also cause permanent harm to those with chronic pain. New research has revealed that, over time, the brain physically changes itself – for the worse — in response to pain.
In people with chronic, lasting pain, certain parts of their brain circuitry – the pain receptor centers – are flooded with electrical signals and unrelenting stimulus. Unfortunately, this causes the overloaded cells to grow and reach out with new dendrites as they try to share the burden with other cells.
This process actually short-circuits and re-wires the brain. Instead of a healthy, compartmentalized brain, cells abandon their own selective circuitry in a desperate attempt to release the electrical buildup.
If you pour water onto your television or radio, it will forge new, unintended electrical connections in the circuitry, and the device stops working properly. Neuroplasticity shows that the same thing can happen to the brains of those with severe and chronically untreated pain.
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