A Trainer’s Inception to Understanding Pain

Pain is complex. There’s no argument there… If you’re a movement professional working with the chronic pain population, perhaps one of the most relevant questions to ask yourself is “what has to happen in order to create an environment geared towards creating pain-free transformations that are specific to the individuals’ current biological, psychological and sociological states?”

Perhaps a more succinct question could be – how does one understand pain? Is there a master blueprint that can act as our guide?

Historically, highly specific areas of the brain (the primary and secondary sensory cortex, the amygdala, thalamus, among others) make up what’s been referred to as the “pain matrix.” It’s been THE map to understanding pain.

3D compass with map and monocular on wooden table

Yet recently, the pain matrix is slowing giving way to a more novel concept – the “salience matrix.”

According to Dr. Moseley, a preeminent neuroscientist – he suggests there is perhaps a more accurate description to the classical ‘pain matrix’ known as “the salience matrix.” Simply put… this matrix is a “what’s important right now matrix.

He elaborates further by stating “the salience matrix is important because it captures the concept of regulating & protecting the body, and its environment.” Think of this matrix as a network of neuro-tags (brain cells) that are buddies, working in unison with the same objective of protecting the body and keeping it away from actual, or even perceived danger.

The salience matrix fits into a larger framework known as the ‘Bio-psycho-social model.’ Pain is a very personal event. It’s unique to the individual – and nobody could ever fully understand someone else’s pain.

Pain relies on context, and the brain is constantly evaluating its environment. It’s on a continuous exploration for all the information that’s available. And the brain has specific filters it looks through… a biological filter, a psychological filter, and a sociological filter .

And right there in lies the astonishing complexities based around working with the client in pain. Not all clients interpret situations and events the same way. What could be interpreted as dangerous to one person may be humorous or exciting to another.

Human beings attach different labels to various situations; ultimately trying to answer the inevitable question of “what does this (situation) really mean to me?”

For example, if an individual recently parted ways with their spouse, or lover… do they interpret that event as being the end, or the beginning? Answering that question alone will create specific neurotags’ that will have relevance and meaning unique to that individual, influencing future decisions based around a similar context.

This is when becoming a master of asking definitive, purposeful questions can be of profound influence. Everything shifts when individuals in pain begin asking new questions…

What makes questions so powerful?Kopf mit Schlüssel

Questions encourage clients’ to open up in his or her own unique way, and in exchange provide the movement professional the “gate key” to much of the ambiguity and guesswork the early stages of rapport building often carry with them. Questions are the filter in which we all come up with meaning.

Said differently, questions are the input – and the output is dependent upon the meaning one gives to those questions.

Pain is an output of the brain – 100% of the time. Which means if your client is experiencing low back pain, the brain’s interpretation of their body in its current state/environment is enough to send off warning bells. Those ‘neurotags’ (in this case – sending the warning bells) have a primary purpose of grabbing the individuals attention, requesting a change of some sorts to take shape.

These changes may be biological, psychological or sociological in nature, or a mixture of all three.

And here is the million dollar take-away… Movement can undoubtedly improve all three. Movement can positively influence the bio-pyscho-social aspects of clients’ current perception of pain, and beliefs about what’s possible through specific, purposeful movement – thus radically shifting the cortical & sub-cortical meaning that’s been given, and ultimately improving the individuals’ current and ongoing well-being.

Movement can be a powerful vehicle to help guide clients back to feeling empowered, in charge – AND Pain-Free

Question: We’d love to hear your thoughts… You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Written by:

Kevin Murray
Movement Masterminds CEO
Function First Education Director


The power of movement is profound – here’s a video demonstrating how lives can change when we combine passion and movement.

Sometimes you just have to use your body as a tool to get to your brain.
Federico Bitti