[Amy Baxter “How to hack your brain when you’re in pain” (April 2023) https://www.ted.com/talks/amy_baxter_how_to_hack_your_brain_when_you_re_in_pain?utm_campaign=tedspread&utm_medium=referral&utm_source=tedcomshare ]

The perception of pain is sensitive to various mental processes such as the feelings and beliefs that someone has about pain. It is therefore not exclusively driven by the noxious input. Attentional modulation involving the descending pain modulatory system has been examined extensively in neuroimaging studies [1].

I’ve recently watched a TED Talk in which Amy Baxter (researcher and physician) speaks about hacking the brain when you are in pain. She has some interesting things to say about it.

She explains how pain can be managed with physiology, fear and control. I summarized the main concepts for you but I highly recommend to watch the entire TED Talk!


Studies show how the motion signal is the most effective on shutting down sharp pain and how cold can decrease pain coming from everywhere. Vibration and cold applications can significantly reduce pain.


Fear from a previous experience increases the pain we are now feeling but since pain is a connection between different brain areas (fear, decision making, control, memory, sensation…), if our brain is occupied by doing something else, we will feel less pain.

Dr. Baxter recommend doing something that distracts our mind. Don’t forget that context can also change the pain.


Choosing what to focus on, breathing, relaxing, cold and many other things can help us control pain.

Can pain be managed with coaching and physiological teaching?

Research think it can. Recent studies show how attention, believes, past experience, expectations and other concepts influence pain and how considering and working on them can help us manage the pain. But this is a story for an other time.

  1. Wiech K, Ploner M, Tracey I. Neurocognitive aspects of pain perception. Trends Cogn. Sci. 2008;12:306–313. doi: 10.1016/j.tics.2008.05.005.