'The Way Out' Offers a Thoughtful New Approach to Treat Chronic Pain
More than 20 percent of Americans suffer from chronic pain, but few know how to manage it without medication. A new book aims to change that. In The Way Out, psychotherapist Alan Gordon explores the science of pain and how the brain sometimes scrambles its signals, creating pain that isn’t tied to a real physical ailment. That’s called “neuroplastic” pain, and Gordon also presents a powerful new way to alleviate it: pain reprocessing therapy, or PRT.
“Our brains aren’t perfect, and sometimes they misinterpret signals from the body,” Gordon tells Men’s Journal. “The body is fine, but the brain creates pain anyway. In other words, neuroplastic pain is a false alarm.”
Yet even false alarms can be incredibly debilitating—pain is pain, no matter the source. That also makes treating neuroplastic pain especially difficult, since there’s no physical issue to address. For the people who suffer from it, there are few effective options for relief.
“That’s what makes the ‘ignore the pain’ advice so unhelpful,” says Gordon. “Just like that fire alarm, pain is a danger signal. And just like the alarm, pain is designed to be unignorable.”
PRT, which Gordon developed himself, offers a new kind of solution. While pain feels like it’s coming from the body, it’s actually created in the brain, he points out, and that’s the best place to address it. PRT is a mind-body technique that uses the principle of neuroplasticity—the brain’s ability to form new connections—to train the brain to stop mixing up signals and creating pain. By working through a suite of psychological techniques, patients can essentially rewire their brains and alleviate chronic aches.
It’s a proven method. Aside from being rooted in neuroscience, PRT is also backed up by the overwhelmingly positive results of a recent study conducted at the University of Colorado–Boulder. In that assessment, 98 percent of patients saw improvements in their pain and 66 percent were pain-free or nearly pain-free by the end of treatment. That’s powerful stuff.
It’s also something Gordon has firsthand experience with. He, too, suffered from chronic pain and was fed up with the ineffective medical advice he received. In addition to digging into how neuroplastic pain works and how to treat it with PRT, The Way Out includes Gordon’s heartfelt and funny reflections on his own battles with mysterious, persistent pain.
Combining psychology, neuroscience, and mindfulness, The Way Out provides a thoughtful, entertaining deep dive into the science of pain—and plenty of hope for relief, too.