The Pain And Brain Connection: How Your Body Can Heal Itself With Dr. Grove Higgins And Pat Marques

AIH 69 | Pain And Brain Connection

 

Pain and the brain are directly connected to each other. In this episode, two experts share insights on how our discomfort caused by pain all resides in our brain. Dr. Grove Higgins and Pat Marques from NeuroAthlete talk how our body knowingly and unknowingly develops and experiences pain, and how we can chase these problems away through a holistic healing approach. Listen to this informative discussion about your nervous system’s threat bucket, stress and tension, chronic pain, and their incredible approach to accelerate healing and giving the body the resources it craves to do what it’s naturally built to do.

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The Pain And Brain Connection: How Your Body Can Heal Itself With Dr. Grove Higgins And Pat Marques

I cannot wait until all of the cars are 100% self-driving. This is because I already love it. I’ve got a 2019, but if anyone out there has a newer car, you’ll know it has this fun feature called adaptive cruise control. This means you can be on the freeway, you can set your cruise control at 70, but if you’re behind someone that’s going 50, your car is going to automatically modulate your speed to keep you at that perfect distance from the car behind you. What I do is I get on the freeway, I punch that adaptive cruise control button, press that lane assist button and then take my feet off the gas and brakes, and then stay present but watch the car. The car hits the brakes when it needs to hit the brakes. It hits the gas when it needs to hit the gas.

It’s made driving a lot more enjoyable and less stressful. I’ve been listening to these meditation tracks in the car and getting into this meditative state while on the freeway. It would typically be a stressful situation, but working in that practice of having that state of meditation on the freeway. What’s funny is every once in a while, be in that zone in the car pumps the brakes hard on its own and I feel my body immediately instinctually tense up. Every muscle in your body starts to tense up. In those moments, it reminds me of how stress is wired into our bodies in those ways.

When we experience stress or threat in the environment, our body’s natural response is tension. Our guests, Dr. Grove who is a chiropractor and Pat who is a veteran, they work together to help people heal and work through physical and mental issues. One of the concepts they talk about is the idea of your nervous system having a threat bucket. As soon as your threat bucket is filled, your nervous system is going to start causing mayhem in your body in the form of pain or discomfort. Whatever it is, when our body is overly stressed or tense, the response typically seems to be uncomfortable. Part of their process of helping people to heal is working through the nervous system to bring the perceived threat level down. As you bring the perceived threat level down, the nervous system is allowed to calm down. As the nervous system is allowed to calm down, everything that’s connected to the nervous system is also allowed to calm down.

If you have chronic pain or stiffness in terms of flexibility, I tell a story about flexibility in yoga, you’re getting better by calming the nervous system. To me, it’s incredible that we can work on the body physically, but we can also work on the body in terms of the nervous system and in terms of what’s going on mentally. When we approach it from this more holistic way, which Dr. Grove and Pat are doing, which is incredible, we’re able to accelerate healing and we’re able to give our body all of the resources it craves to do what it’s naturally built to do. Your body is naturally built to find ease, relaxation and heal itself, but it needs these essential resources. Dr. Grove and Pat are helping their clients to get that. Please tune-in closely. There are a lot of valuable nuggets in this episode.

Welcome to the show, Dr. Grove and Pat. How are you doing, Dr. Grove?

I’m Dr. Grove Higgins. I’m a chiropractor or soft tissue injury expert and rehabilitationist.

That’s perfect, and Pat?

I’m Pat Marques. I’m an exercise therapist. We have a lot of neurological training here at our facility to improve people’s movement and reinforce the things that Dr. Grove does with them.

Collectively, what is the name of the facility that you work at or work for? Did you start together?

Yeah, definitely. The facility here in Colorado Springs is rebranding to NeuroAthlete. Before we were the Colorado Springs Center for Human Performance and Rehabilitation, which is quite a mouthful. Now we’re The NeuroAthlete Center here and we do work online as well with people all over the world.

In a nutshell, how would you describe what you are doing at NeuroAthlete and then we can get more into the weeds and into the details.

Primarily, we work with people that have had pain and dysfunction for quite a long period of time, sometimes in the order of years and decades. We helped them get out of pain, stay out of pain and give them the tools to do it perpetually on their own.

Dr. Grove, you come from a chiropractic background. How have you woven in that chiropractic background with what you do in terms of the physical therapy side of it as one cohesive unit?

I come originally from the physical therapy background working with acute care physical therapy patients, strokes, amputees and such as that. I got a baptism in neurologically devastated individuals to begin with and then helping them learn how to move and do the activities of daily living initially. I got into chiropractic as a way to get past a lot of the biomechanical problems that came up with those individuals as well as my performance-oriented people and athletes. It made it possible between the soft tissue work in the chiropractic to tear down roadblocks for performance enhancement and pain resolution. We use it not exclusively but oftentimes, it’s the initial entry point for a lot of clients because we don’t know what is causing their pain initially. We know that the nervous system is a big driver but by the time they get to us, there are a lot of other things and dysfunctions going on. We use it as that entering shot into their system. With the training that Pat does, that’s where the real changes get made.

Pain is 100% a brain output. It is a brain construct. We have no such things as pain receptors. We have threat receptors that sense something wrong. Click To Tweet

How did you two first get connected and on this course of working together and collaborating on bringing this to people?

I’ll let Pat answer that because his entry was after we got something started that we worked for a good long time and set the course for what we do. I’ll let him tell it because his side of the story is more interesting.

I retired out of the Army after many years in 2011. I knew I wanted to do something different with the rest of my professional career. I knew I wanted to do something with exercise and that kind of thing. I had gotten introduced to Dr. Grove at that time and he had helped start a small military focus nonprofit here in Colorado Springs that worked with wounded, ill and injured soldiers off of Fort Carson predominantly. I was lucky enough as I started to get an education in exercise science and things like that to be able to use those skills on a daily basis volunteering at this nonprofit. They predominantly did adaptive physical training for the men and women that were in the process of either trying to get a fix or get put out of the Army because of their injuries.

That’s how we came together initially. I got the training and certifications in some different things, especially in the neurological aspect of movements and of getting out of pain and improving performance. We found a good model for helping people, not just military or veterans, but people in general. That’s how we got started doing what we do together cohesively from the chiropractic and soft tissues into the exercise therapy side of the house to help people.

Where my mind goes is trying to paint a picture for our audience. Dr. Grove, I know you took us through the anatomy of someone experiencing an injury and what that can cause in the body. Take us through that same story in a way people can get a sense of how a physical injury as simple as a stubbed toe can manifest into more serious issues.

Pain is probably one of the most common experiences that all human beings share. It can come by multiple means, both from an injury like that stubbed toe that we talked about to the highly repetitive environments that most of us are in, whether we’re a house maker, an office worker or somebody in the military for that matter. We’ll take for instance something that everybody’s used to, which is pain in general. You stubbed your toe, you start to limp and then your body has to deal with a threat that’s coming at it. Because what you’ve done essentially, in that case, is you’ve taken to joint surfaces and you smashed them together. That’s what your brain uses to see how you’re going to survive under that environment.

When you put your foot down on the ground, you have a bunch of joints, about 56 of them between both feet, moving at any one time. Your nervous system picks up that movement and says, “Is it safe or is it not safe?” From there, you’re either limping or you’re fixing something as you’re moving. You’re either stuck in a pattern of dysfunction and pain, which can happen off of something that simple. Your body is able to fix it through the normal motions or the way that we would prefer you do it is to target that specifically and fix it. One of the most common things that we see is people with pain from everyday living and technology use. A good example of that is how many of us have to use computers and other pieces of technology sitting at a desk.

Two injuries are going on there. One, we’re in bad positions all the time, so our postures are crappy and leading to problems and we’re not moving. The body learns that’s the default. It leads to several things. One, the soft tissues and the alignment becomes stuck for all intents and purposes. Those are the aches and pains that you get in your upper back, between your shoulder blades and your neck, and your shoulders where you feel you need a massage every other day. Those types of things are cumulative trauma leading to worse and worse, spiraling downward type of problems that eventually can lead to some severe problems.

AIH 69 | Pain And Brain Connection
Pain And Brain Connection: One of the most common things that we see is people with pain from everyday living and technology use.

 

The non-movement adds into it and eventually you get to a point where not only is your posture bad and you’re stuck there, but in this case, it can impact your breathing. The lack of breathing can lead to digestion issues and poor nutrition. Even though you might be eating all the right stuff, you’re not getting stuff out of it well because the gut is dysfunctional now. One of the most common problems of bad breathing is anxiety. How many of us don’t experience some anxiety anymore in our daily lives because we don’t move? I had to guess quite a few of us. Those are the types of problems that we get to see oftentimes. By the time they get to us, it’s been years and decades in a lot of cases.

I love the way you walk us through that. Something so simple done repetitively over time can start to have this cumulative detrimental effect on our body’s performance. It’s eye-opening to anyone who spends a lot of time at a computer or even on a cell phone. When you compromise your body’s posture, you’re putting stress and you’re creating these patterns that can snowball out of control, as much as affecting your digestion, your anxiety level and you’re breathing. I don’t think many people are aware that they have a serious effect on the overall system. I love that you guys are integrating not just movement and posture, but also how these affect the whole being in a sense.

Typically, a person comes to find somebody like Pat and me because they are in pain. Oftentimes, they’re going through the process. They find out that they feel so much better in many different ways and they have no idea that they were such a tangled mess. They thought it was just pain, then they come to find out that many other issues are tied in there. Unfortunately, the way the healthcare system is set up is we chase symptoms. You’ve got a gut problem, you chase the gut problem. You don’t see the movement problems. You chase the pain problem and you don’t necessarily fix the movement problem or the gut problems. It’s dysfunctional in that sense.

If you were to take someone with chronic posture and digestive issues, what would be the plan of action for starting to correct that with the two of you?

They’re probably coming in with pain. On my side of the house, what I do in the evaluation is I get a history. I figure out what happened before the pain started. What were you doing? Were there injuries? Is there an accumulation of injuries? By the time that people come to see us, they’ve had a lifetime ahead of their pain where they’ve been in motor vehicle accidents, falling out of trees as a kid and such that. Was it bad movement behaviors such as sitting behind a desk all the time? From there, we can eliminate red flags and make sure there’s nothing worse going on but then seeing exactly what does this looks like. How much of it is soft tissue? How much of it is the immobility of the person from the joint level and such like that? One way or the other, they’re off my table as quickly as we can get it and I roll him over to Pat’s side of the house. He can then take either that knowledge or the freedom that I can give them and makes it into something that’s a real-world result they can then carry with them.

Pat, once they get passed over to you, what stuff do you start doing with them?

It depends on what their initial issue is going on what Dr. Grove finds. From a 10,000-foot view, if someone gets on his table or any chiropractor or manual therapist’s table and gets benefits, if you go get a massage and it feels good and your pain reduces or goes away, then we know we’re affecting the right thing. It’s then how do we make it stick? The way you make it stick is you teach people how they should be moving. We’re all familiar with that punched over posture that computers drive us into. Their upper back is in a very flex position, hunched over and that’s their normal posture. Their head carries a little forward neck on the thing. The bones themselves can’t hold themselves like that. The bones have no cognitive function.

They’re held that way because the soft tissue, the muscles, the ligaments and the fascia tendons are holding them in that position. The brain has decided to innervate the muscles and things like that to hold that position because of the repetitive postures that doc talked about. What I do is try to teach them and there are many different things we may have to go into to get them to move better. I get them to move their joints in a way that is more of a corrective posture. It doesn’t work just by saying, “Stand up straight.” If it was that easy, that would be great but we know it isn’t.

Pain is probably one of the most common experiences that all human beings share. Click To Tweet

The brain is a repetition machine and it has to get input frequently to make a structural change like that. We teach a lot of different things, but we’ll go through joint mobility drills or it may be pain problems in their limb, then there are neuromechanics drills for the peripheral nerves to get the nerves to move better. They’re going get at some drill or exercise multiple times usually from me that are driving them towards maintaining that posture that doc can correct on the table.

What stuck out to me in there was this idea of repetition. The first thing that came into my mind was you got into pain by repeating these bad habits over and over again. Let’s say if you’re on a computer and you’re hunched over 8 hours a day. You can’t change that overnight. In reversing that, you have to be consistent and constant in the repetition. The other thing that stuck out to me from what I’m listening to, it seems like changing our soft tissue is the gateway to changing our structural support system. Is that your approach, focusing on soft tissue first?

Yeah, most definitely. I want to get into that a little bit deeper because Pat said something about the bones have no cognitive function. They don’t behave. They’re acted upon by the soft tissue and that changes your structure. That changes those bones. That’s essentially when you see something like arthritis. What you’re seeing is the maladaptation of the bones because of how the soft tissue is driving them, but it’s not the soft tissue’s fault. The big fallacy that everybody has about soft tissue is the idea of the term muscle memory. Muscle is dumb. It doesn’t do anything on its own. It’s told to do things. When the muscle is tight or your hamstring is tight and you can’t touch your toes, it’s not because the hamstring is tight. It’s being told to be tight.

We have to target the right system. That system is the nervous system that tells the hamstring, in this case, to be relaxed and allow you to touch your toes or to be tight to protect you from something it perceives as being a threat. Oftentimes, we give the soft tissue too much credit. It is something that we address from the standpoint of manual therapy. If the person isn’t getting the right information from good movements and other sensory, then they never fully get the benefit of the therapies that they are paying lots of money for. That’s including the chiropractic and the soft tissue that I do.

What you’re saying is it all comes back to the nervous system. Oftentimes or maybe all the time, a tight muscle has nothing to do with the muscle itself, but the nervous system is telling that muscle to be stressed, tight or tense at this moment.

That’s where having a better concept of what we call the central governor is necessary to getting everything you want out of your training, out of your therapies that you’re currently doing and improving life in general.

I’ll throw a story from my own life here that relates to what we’re talking about. I used to teach yoga. I used to do two yoga classes a day for a few years. The whole premise being if you stretch enough, you’re going to get more flexible. I never found that to be the case. I keep going to classes and maybe you get that ounce more flexible but not really. What I found was I got more flexible through meditation than drilling to yoga over and over again.

The fact that you’re changing the way you think changed how you moved and how you move can impact how you think.

Here’s what happened as you use meditation and your flexibility is improved. If you think of your nervous system, we call it your threat bucket. Everything goes into that bucket. Any prior injuries you used to have, relationships you’re currently in, the work that you’re doing, the stress you get from work, how much you’re exercising, how good your sleep is, how well your breathing is, your visual system is a big input into that bucket, as well as your vestibular system, your inner ear, which orients you towards gravity. Everything matters. When that bucket fills up too high, it starts at the top, not at the bottom.

The output that comes out when those threat levels get too high is all the negative outputs. These things like pain, being stiff or weakness all that matters. When you reduced your overall threat level by utilizing meditation, you brought that level in that bucket down to the point where your body and your brain could relax more and you gained more flexibility. It’s about managing threat or stress. We use those terms interchangeably. That’s what makes that huge difference because your nervous system was the central governor of everything. It does not distinguish between a physical threat and what we would commonly think of as a psychological or emotional threat. It will react the same.

AIH 69 | Pain And Brain Connection
Pain And Brain Connection: The way you think change how you move, and how you move can impact how you think.

 

If I’m walking down the street and a tiger jumps out of the alley. Physiologically, my blood pressure is going to go up, my heart rate and my breathing rate will increase, blood will shunt away from my hands and feet to the big muscles of fight or flight. If I’m sitting in my office on a Friday at 4:30 and I’m looking forward to getting out of the office in 0.5 hours to take my kids to the new Avengers movie, and my boss walks in and says, “Sorry, but you’ve got to stay another three hours, we’ve got this new deadline.” What happens? My breathing rate, my heart rate and my blood pressure increases, blood shunts away from my hands and feet and into the muscles of fight or flight. The same things happen. The brain doesn’t distinguish between that. Through meditation, you managed those threat levels and brought them down and then you got a better output, which in this case was an increase in flexibility.

That’s the conclusion I came to eventually, not immediately. It took me quite a long time to come to that conclusion. The conclusion I came to in my own words was managing stress above all else. If you’re working from a place of stress, you’re not ever going to make progress because you’re overloading your threat bucket. I used to be so hardcore. I was like I need to exercise 2 to 3 times a day. I need to push myself or I’m not going to grow. I found this place of harnessing balance through the nervous system and studying how to get the body out of stress and work from that place. Would you say that through your movement, you tend to work in a way where you’re trying to promote movement but not stress?

Definitely, because the movement can be stressed too. Exercise is stress, but there’s good stress and then there’s distress. The movement has to have an element of stress too one way or the other. If it’s good stress in the sense that the movement is good, the loads are appropriate to the tissues and to what you’ve trained, then you continue to move better. Your distress or the threat bucket is low and thus everything performs better. The beautiful part about the body is it’s so integrated that if we make an improvement in any one area, it has a tendency to infect in a good way other aspects. Getting better spinal mobility leads to better breathing, better gut performance and less anxiety.

The beautiful part about the way we did it with the soldiers in the beginning and we do it now, we help them get a handle on the most tangible aspect of why they’re coming to see us in the first place, which is their pain. We might not necessarily solve their pain right away but eventually, it leads to this discussion that we’re having right now. It allows them to start seeing how integrated their whole body and life is and the ability to start addressing lots of aspects all at one time.

You let them find their own way, almost giving them something that they’re used to, which is movement. Through the process, they started to ask questions, wonder and unraveled the chain.

With somebody like you, we can jump right into that. You have good self-awareness and knowledge base. Most people, if we don’t address the thing that’s right in front of them, the reason that they came and they’re paying us money, they don’t want to hear the rest of it. They’re not ready for that. As they start to see how much control they have over their pain, over their dysfunction and how it affects other areas, it opens them up to this larger discussion, which allows us to help them in ways that they never even contemplated coming in here.

The body is so integrated that if we make an improvement in any one area, it has a tendency to infect in a good way other aspects. Click To Tweet

Pain tends to be a threat bucket filler, right?

Yeah, and it’s not flipped from the threat bucket. It fills it and it comes out of it.

We have to make a threat reduction first. If you have knee pain, we’ve got to reduce that threat first and then we can do threat modulation or threat inoculation, which is what exercise is. You’re stressing the system. You have to do it the right amounts to make positive adaptations and not so much that you continue to break the system. Reduce threat first and then modulate it later. It’s important to remember that pain is 100% a brain outlook. It is a brain construct. We have no such thing as pain receptors. We have threat receptors though, that sense something is wrong in the homeostasis of this organism we call body. The threat receptors send a signal to the brain, the brain decides how dangerous it is. If it thinks it’s dangerous, it will send the signal of pain so that you pay attention and do something. Pain is an action signal. It isn’t 100% output from the brain. We don’t get pain signals to the brain. Not everybody understands that initially.

Essentially what you’re saying is pain is our body’s way of trying to get our attention.

The reason that we know that pain lives 100% from the brain is there’s a thing called Phantom Pain Syndrome from people who have had amputations. They have pain that no longer exists. That pain lives 100% in the brain. Some people walk around with things that should cause them pain and they feel nothing. It’s what the brain makes of it and how much threat it has to deal with before it decides to try to get your attention.

On the whole idea of movement as it relates to almost navigating and tackling the threat. I got into starting to do jiu-jitsu and what I’ve found about the practice that’s powerful. It’s a great movement practice. There are lots of dynamic moves, flexibility and all of that. What I’ve noticed more than anything is it’s a movement practice that is safely putting you in a threatful situation but allowing you the space to navigate it. Do you ever experiment with stuff like martial arts or jiu-jitsu or anything that? Do you think that relates to healthy movement?

Most definitely. That’s part of why we were attracted to working with veterans or at least Iowa for sure. Here you have a body, a system, a person who has been in very stressful situations. It’s the stress and the volume of change in the military. That’s stress right there, but then take somebody that’s been through combat that’s taken their system to an extreme and see how certain individuals survive it very well and come out well-balanced, physically and mentally and how others fall apart. Martial arts is a controlled environment and is a great way to train it. Soldiers couldn’t go into combat if they didn’t do that thing first and inoculate themselves to at least a minimum level of threat that is in a controlled environment or safe environment that allows them to practice the skills and come out the other side surviving.

On the note with veterans, we do a lot of work with veterans. We have a fourteen-year army vet on our team over here. In terms of working with veterans, a lot of times it’s hard to start to unravel everything that they’ve been through. Would you say that in your experience, since you have worked with a lot of veterans that a movement-based practice is a great jumping-off point rather than trying to immediately tackle some of the psychological stuff that might be going on? Everything’s connected and so if you get a win somewhere, it can be a win anywhere.

I think it’s key. In our practice and working with veterans back in the day, we got calls multiple times by the psychologist working with these guys. They said, “We don’t know what you’re doing, but the guys that are in your program perform so much better in the clinic and are getting so much more out of their therapies.” What we were doing was all movement and showing these guys that they had the ability to change their performance and change their pain. Movement is a big key. You don’t think of anything that doesn’t turn into some movement in your life, whether it be moving from point A to point B, communicating that idea or thought into verbiage, writing it down or speaking it to somebody in a conversation. The reason that we have a brain is to move. Movement is its language and it’s also how we communicate back to it. Without that, you’re never going to get full healing until you move well too.

That’s such a good point. I’ve created a program about foundational health and movement is one of those principles. I’m glad you’re talking about it in this way because it’s causing my brain to light up and think about movement. It’s more than just about moving. It’s about integrating and connecting with our nervous system on an intimate level. I love that you’re saying this. Let’s say someone’s not able to come to see you for whatever restriction, is there a roadmap or a game plan that you have for people who can start to help themselves get out of pain if they don’t have access to someone like you? Are there any recommendations for movement practices or things to start investigating or learning about it?

First thing, that’s why we’re creating an online version of ourselves. If I had to advise anybody, it’s pick up a good movement practice and pick up a good movement coach. By getting into movement, it doesn’t have to be a high-level movement. It can be very simple levels of movement. Some of the things that we start people with is doing a finger wave if that’s what is necessary to break into that. I got a good story behind that. We had a former Navy corpsman with a Marine detachment. He transferred into the Army and he got ran over by a Humvee during action in Iraq. The guy has tons of pain and brain injury.

AIH 69 | Pain And Brain Connection
Pain And Brain Connection: The reason that we have a brain is to move. Movement is its language. It’s also how you communicate back to it.

 

He was going to lose his arm eventually. He was in a real mean sob. Eventually, I had to sit down with them and say, “What’s the issue?” He says, “I can’t do anything without pain.” We found the one thing that he could do without pain, which was literally a finger wave where he took his left hand that worked and did finger waves, which is rolling your fingers down into your palms and then rolling them back up. It’s as simple as that. From that point forward, within just a few weeks, he was riding a mountain bike and now works for a wounded warrior type of project out in Chicago as their activity’s director for outdoor recreation. Here’s a guy that would sit in the corner and cuss at everybody that came by him, and getting some movement that was not painful and not threatening, opened up huge doors for him. He was one of the happiest people we had to work with.

That’s an incredible story of the power of movement, no matter how small. Was he paralyzed or just in pain when you started with him?

He had lots of pain. The whole right side of his body, his arm was completely dead. All the nerves were severed in his arms. His right leg was pretty much useless for anything other than sitting in a recumbent bicycle. He was in pain. He was pissed off. He didn’t see any light in any tunnel. There was another guy who was an Army sniper. He had fallen out of a helicopter in action. He broke his back falling into a ditch. He was one of these guys who comes from a hugely athletic background. He was a state champion in wrestling and other things like that. He was scared to engage.

He came with his crew because he was commanded to. One day, I invited him over to my garage. I had an old gym and clinic in my garage at the time. He came over and we started doing some simple things so that way, he could feel no pain touching his kneecaps. From that point forward, now he speaks around the country. He’s in Paralympics competing at the highest levels for track cycling. It started with the simplest things and proving to a person they had control over the pain that they are experiencing.

What immediately comes to me is moving in a way where you’re not causing yourself pain, to build confidence that you have control over the pain. From that place of confidence and control over this experience you have, you can start to increase movement over time.

Movement over time or almost instantaneously in some cases, as soon as you get one repetition into that nervous system that didn’t cause pain and increased threat in the bucket that Pat drew for you. All of a sudden, you can find that now the brain unlocks performance very rapidly. It does take some time, but oftentimes, we can get people performing very quickly and then the repetition behind that becomes super important.

Let’s say someone who is paralyzed because we have a number of people dealing with some paralysis in our community. Would you say simply move what you can move and start to work with that?

Yeah, definitely. Dr. Grove had said, the reason we have a brain is to move. Your brain has a map of you. It’s called different things in the medical and outside world, proprioception or some sensory, but proprioception is self-sense. The sense of where you are in time and space. That’s the 3D map that your brain has of you. That map is built with the information that comes into the brain in order to build that map and have a good map. If you think of awesome athletes who seem so coordinated and their movements seem easy, they have a great proprioceptive map. The information comes from the joints, the muscles and the receptors in those areas that send that information to the brain.

If I break my arm and I’m going to cast my left arms at a 90-degree bend for weeks, while I’m in that cast, that area in the brain for that part of that map gets cloudy. That’s why when the cast comes off, I don’t whip my arm around and move it well. Part of that reason is that the map is cloudy in that area. I need to start moving it to increase the clarity of that map. Even if you’ve got some level of paralysis and things like that, the more that you can move what you can move, it fills that map or clarifies that map as best as you can possibly do it.

What I wrote down is this idea of rebuilding the map in our brain without pain, working in movement patterns that aren’t causing us pain because there might be this subconscious idea that any movement is associated with pain. As we start to rebuild our association with movement as not being painful, we can rebuild the map.

Definitely, and then you earn the right to do what you’re talking about, which is getting into jiu-jitsu where now pain becomes a stressor that we can safely engage in and that allows us to perform under higher stress. I’m going to throw one little caveat in here. In our modern-day, one of the things our sense of movement is tied to is our ability to see well. With the increasing amount of technology use, screens and everything, vision is becoming a big factor. We thought all of our movement comes from our ability to see threats first. Our vision is our biggest input into the brain at any one time and then we can move from there. We’re not discussing somebody that’s blind in this case, but a vision becomes a big inhibitor of good movement and can drive a lot of that stress that causes pain that we see these days.

My producer over here wrote, “Move well first and then move faster.”

Slow, smooth, smooth is fast.

Pain can be a stressor that we can safely engage in and that allows us to perform under higher stress. Click To Tweet

I love that saying. I’m loving all this and thank you so much for sharing your wisdom with the community. I have one more question for both of you and that is, what’s your inspiration?

The inspiration that I have is seeing people reach their full potential, not in the sense of what I get to see, but seeing that they see fewer limits to their potential, both in the way that they feel, they live life and engage in life. They get to see that what they perceived as barriers aren’t barriers anymore and seeing that hope on their faces.

For me, it’s similar to that. It’s able to empower people. That’s what’s cool about what we do. You see people realize that they are in control of their pain and performance issue, whatever it may be. To be able to give them tools that they become empowered to fix and improve themselves. They’ve got a bigger toolbox for the rest of their life that they can always tap into.

Let people know where they can find you. It sounds like you are going to have resources available online soon. Where can people connect with you so they can get access?

The best place to go to is NeuroAthlete.com. We have information both in the clinic as well as online resources. We have new resources for people to start to engage and try to fix pain and performance issues on their own. If they ever run into that roadblock, they can contact us and we can work with them no matter where they are.

Thank you so much and I hope you have a wonderful day.

Thank you very much. We appreciate it.

Important Links:

About Grove Higgins

AIH 69 | Pain And Brain ConnectionDr. Higgins has studied brain function, movement, and pain for nearly 25 years. After working in the field for many years, Dr. Higgins concluded that many of the existing techniques and professions were too limited by their perspective or toolset. He soon recognized that many performance-related issues, such as movement and pain, require a combination of neurological, soft-tissue and biomechanical alignment techniques, to remediate.  Dr. Higgins sought out the best education and mentorship he could in coaching, neurological and soft tissue training and rehabilitation, finding it in the powerful combination Z-Health Performance System and other techniques including A.R.T. (Active Release Techniques).

As Cofounder, NeuroAthlete is a culmination of a dream to provide clients the broad range of services and experience of quality professionals. Dr. Higgins believes that the client should be the focus of attention and not the techniques.

Dr. Higgins has been married for over 15 years and has beautiful family with three children. Being a homeschooling family, Dr. Higgins is very active in Scouting, Church, and is the Coordinator of the local Homeschool Science Lab. He is also very active in serving our wounded, ill or injured soldiers and vets working with over 2,000 soldiers.

About Pat Marques

AIH 69 | Pain And Brain ConnectionPat Marques served in the Active Duty Army for 20 years in the Infantry and Special Forces.  After retiring in 2011 he decided to continue working with soldiers by helping our nation’s wounded warriors through adaptive physical training.  As Pat pursued his education and certifications in exercise science he volunteered as a trainer at a non-profit to assist wounded, ill, and injured soldiers, where he first met Dr. Higgins.  Pat also worked at Wounded Warrior Project as a national program manager for the peer support program.

Pat utilizes skills developed as a Z-Health Master Trainer to provide exercise therapy, movement reeducation, and strength and conditioning for all levels of clients at NeuroAthlete – from chronic pain sufferers to Olympic-level athletes. He strives to bring cutting edge knowledge and techniques to our clients via a thorough assessment process to quickly find the core issue causing the pain or dysfunction, then providing solutions to the problems.

Pat is married with four daughters, but still finds time to continue strength training and run half-marathon races every year.  He still works with wounded warriors, both active and veterans, in various capacities to get them out of pain, resolve TBI issues, and empower them to continue lifelong functional wellness.

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