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Home » How to Hack Your Brain When You’re in Pain: Amy Baxter (Transcript)

How to Hack Your Brain When You’re in Pain: Amy Baxter (Transcript)

Here is the full transcript and summary of Amy Baxter’s talk titled “How to Hack Your Brain When You’re in Pain” at TED conference.

In this TED talk, researcher and physician Amy Baxter challenges the misconceptions surrounding pain and shares techniques to hack the brain and manage pain. She emphasizes that pain is a learning system for survival and should be understood, not silenced. Baxter discusses the power of non-pharmacological methods such as vibration, motion, cold, and distraction in reducing pain. She also shares her personal experience of using physiological hacks to alleviate pain and highlights the dangers of opioids in turning on the reward system instead of completely eliminating pain.

Listen to the audio version here:


So if you whack your thumb with a hammer, you think pain is in your thumb. Physicians have a more sophisticated understanding. We know that it’s an alarm that goes on nerves to your spine, where it is translated to your brain, and pain actually happens somewhere. It’s a little vague.

We actually only get two days of pain education throughout all of medical school, so… In fact, the only pain lecture I remember from the ’90s was in a dark room like this, after being awake for 30 hours and hungry, and finding out our noon lecture was sponsored by OxyContin. We got pens, we got great lasagna, and they had very cool slides that showed pain stopped by opioids. And we learned that home opioids aren’t addictive, and if you stay ahead of pain, you can keep your patients pain-free.

And beyond the obviously egregious marketing, I think it was framing “pain-free” as the goal that has destroyed countless lives. My friend’s son Christopher started having severe abdominal pain during this “no-pain” era. Eventually, he was diagnosed with a colon disease and had surgery his senior year.

They sent Christopher home with 90 OxyContin, and then 90 more, and then, as the pain started getting faster and faster… Uncontrolled pain is terrifying. So when his ran out and his friends’ medicine cabinets ran out, Christopher tried heroin. And Christopher Wolf lost his battle with substance use at age 32.

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