The Pain Tunnel: Part One

bunny rabbit

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”


Before we can understand neck pain, we need to get a better grasp of the problem of pain.

It requires us to take a journey into the inner workings of our perceptions. Hang in there with me and follow me down the rabbit hole.

We perceive pain. It seems pretty straight forward. We can feel it. We can’t ignore it. It’s just there eating away at our souls. Those things are all true but the nature of the problem of pain is a bit more complicated.

To make this easier to understand I’m going to describe it using another one of our senses.

Vision. In this analogy, the experience of pain is like seeing a giant white rabbit with polka dots in front of you. It seems pretty straight forward, if not strange. This huge white rabbit with polka dots is standing in front of you. Your perception tells you it’s right there and there’s nothing between you and it.

What if I said, you were wrong? What if I told you there was a normal sized, white rabbit with no polka dots in front of you. You’d think I was crazy. It’s right there in front of you. You can see it. What if I told you that you see a huge white rabbit with polka dots because you are wearing multiple sets of glasses. One set of glasses magnified the normal sized rabbit to make it appear larger than it is. Another set of glasses has spots on the lens making it appear the rabbit is polka dotted.

The experience of pain is very similar. It appears to be one problem. In reality, the pain you are experiencing is the combined experience of multiple layers, or lenses, that all add up to the sum total of your pain experience.

Let’s explain this another way. You are experiencing pain at a 7 on a 0-10 scale. It looks and feels like there is a single issue causing your pain experience of the 7. If it were a math problem, it would look like this.


A 7 worthy problem leads to 7 worthy pain, right? Wrong.

In reality your pain experience of a 7 is the sum total experience of multiple different issues or layers. The real math problem looks like this.


So, what are the different “lenses” or “layers” that are adding up to your pain? Let me introduce you to The Pain Tunnel. The Pain Tunnel is what you are looking through while experiencing pain. It is made up of the different systems in your body that allow you to move, allow you to sense the world around you, and allow you to interpret what you are sensing. Let’s look at what layers make up The Pain Tunnel.

The Pain Tunnel

  • Layer 1: Central Nervous System
  • Layer 2: Peripheral Nervous System
  • Layer 3: Inflammation
  • Layer 4: Muscle & Joint Dysfunction
  • Layer 5: Joint Degeneration

When we experience pain, we are actually experiencing the pain through all of these “layers” or “lenses”. Let’s reexamine your pain experience of 7 one more time. This time let’s look at it through The Pain Tunnel and break it down into its parts. Your pain experience of 7 might actually looks like this.

Your Pain Tunnel

  • Layer 1: Central Nervous System Issues - 1 pain point
  • Layer 2: Peripheral Nervous System Issues - 1 pain point
  • Layer 3: Inflammation Issues -2 pain points
  • Layer 4: Muscle & Joint Dysfunction Issues - 3 pain points
  • Layer 5: Joint Degeneration Issues - 0 pain points.

Totaling an experience of a 7 out of 10 on the pain chart.

Everyone’s Pain Tunnel is going to look different

Which is why one treatment can work amazingly for one person and fail miserably for another. It was never addressing the actual issue or important layer of the issue.

If you’ve gotten this far you now understand chronic pain better than 99% of the world... and 93% of the health care and wellness community (that’s a true but scary thought.)

I bring you good news!

This means that you are in control! It means that you can always impact your pain. It means that even if you’ve had an MRI and have some scary diagnosis, you are not a victim to that diagnosis. It means you can change your life, impact your experience of pain, and step back into the driver seat of your life.

Now that you understand the nature of the problem of pain, the next post in the series I will give you a brief explanation of each layer in The Pain Tunnel, what it looks like when they get dysfunctional, and what health care professionals treat each layer.

Cheers Friends,
Matthew Lister - Founder of Align


Adorable bunny

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