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Pain, Proust, Nerve Growth Factor

Mouse sarcomas and snake venom figured prominently in the prizes of the Nobel Laureates of 1986 for their studies of Nerve Growth Factor (NGF).

A couple of years before that, in my certification class (1984) at the Rolf Institute of Structural Integration, among factors in a discussion of what was known about pain historically/currently by Rolfers,  Jim Asher, Ph.D., advanced Rolfing faculty, spoke of results of a study that had been seen by Ida Rolf at the osteopathic school in Kirksville MO, some 45-ish years earlier.  In the study, the Kirksville physicians obtained permission to autopsy persons who had come to the clinic there for back pain for a number of years.  The physicians wanted to see if anything was evident physically upon autopsy telling why the pain came back.

In the report of this Kirksville story of pains that kept recurring,  the autopsies showed that the nerves of the chronic back pain patients had grown anywhere from 3 to 10 times larger.  The interpretation was that they had become some-to-much more sensitive in the area of historical pain.  It wasn’t called NGF at the time, how the nerves grew in pain areas.

There was a Proustian emotion in this proto-NGF story for me, who had been in a lot of pain:

Those [the pains, insertion by Linda] who have played a big part in one’s life very rarely disappear from it suddenly for good.  They return to it at odd moments (so much so that people suspect a renewal of old love) before leaving it for ever.—Proust, 1920ish (What, the NGF of emotion??  I will write more later on this, I hope.)

Then, 2 years after I heard this story of enlarged and sensitive nerves, the Nobel award was made, which talked about just what the osteopathic physicans had observed some 45 years before, now with the NGF “teeth” of how that enlargement had happened.

One wonders, what can the average person do about chronic pain and its development through this Nerve Growth Factor process?  One thing that we can do is to take pain pills as prescribed by our doctors. If no pain, no Nerve Growth Factor causing the nerves to get bigger and more sensitive.

Don’t be shy about calling up your doctor and checking out pain that has gone on for several days.  Of course, if you have fallen or had another event that is bugging you, call sooner.  I just read a New England Journal of Medicine idea about abdominal pain: Six hours is too long for that pain to go unchecked by your doctor.

Of course, most people in my experience who come to Rolfing have been checked from stem to stern and 6 ways to Sunday in the standard medical practice.  There is nothing or little to be done for them in the standard medical practice that makes much sense.

When a doctor visit doesn’t provide help, it does make sense to call a Rolfer (contact info: and see if being structurally integrated makes sense.  Try not to ask for a “guarantee”, you didn’t get it from your doctor and you won’t get it from a reputable Rolfer.

Gravity won’t stop when you walk out the door after your 10th basic hour, all graduated unless your pre-Rolfing history had the Cossacks dragging you behind them for miles.  Get good Rolfing maintenance appropriate for your structure/function.

Try not to wait until NGF has taken over your life and the only thing left is a trip to Lourdes, France, for the healing waters.


This Post Has One Comment

    The post got too long; so didn’t include this news about a nerve growth factor blocking agent called “tanezumab”. There is news of this around the internet, even in the New England Journal of Medicine.

    The spin: growth factor is needed for some things, not good to block it out that much!
    Some 14 people had to have joint replacements while on tanezumab.
    Back to the drawing board.

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