Neuroplasticity, Photography, and Chronic Pain

A girl’s first fishing rod is an exciting moment at least for dad. Baby brother wants in on the fun.

I’ll bet you never expected to see such a word as “neuroplasticity” in a photography blog particularly one devoted to taking pics of grands, gardens, and good places. But here’s the “thing.” Like so many others both young and not so young, I’ve been fighting mobility issues and the pain that comes with it. It’s kept me from doing lots of things I love like gardening, and it’s made me concerned that travel will become too difficult. As a result, I’ve been trying to get better while avoiding the surgery that is not a good idea for me. 

Dad has to show a girl how to do it.

Along the way, I’ve come across the term neuroplasticity which is defined as “the brain’s ability to modify, change, and adapt both structure and function.” As it regards pain, it is believed that “retraining the brain can diminish or eliminate chronic pain.” One of the ways to retrain the brain is to refocus on something other than pain – not ignoring it – but instead giving the brain something else to think about. Keep in mind that I’m no expert in any of this so don’t take this discussion as anything other than a photography blogger’s  explanation.

A can of corn makes great bait.

A first “catch” can be a bit scary. Even if it’s a little fish.

However, as I was reading book after book and article after article, I suddenly remembered something that I’ve said countless times. When I am looking through my camera’s eyepiece, nothing hurts. No pain. No anxiety (other than that which comes when a hummingbird skitters away too fast to catch). No stress. At that “ah ha” moment, I realized that this is neurplasticity at work for me. My entire focus was on something other than what hurt or what worried me or what stresses were chewing on me.

Photographer is watching from afar.

And since this blog is not for professionals who probably have artistic worries I’ll never think about, I thought my fellow casual photographers might like to think about the benefits of taking pictures. Do you find yourself shrugging off the day’s worries when you are trying to record a grand’s birthday expression as the child blows out a candle? Are you able to forget the day’s disasters and deaths as shown on the 6 o’clock news while you record that incredible sunflower? Is one of the reasons you love to travel is because photographing interesting places lets you leave behind what worries you? If so, then treat your camera as a tool for healing and delight. It’s what I am doing. Not that I need that as an excuse but I surely consider it icing on the cake of life.

I can guarantee you that while catching these moments in time, I was not thinking about anything but the experience and what I could see through my viewfinder. Stress, anxiety, and worry were not on my mind.

By Susan E L Lake  



  1. Very interesting. I’m not the photographer you are by any stretch of the imagination, but I understand your point. I find that when I sit down at the piano or organ I forget about any worries, physical or emotional. This is especially true when it is new music. Thanks, Susan, for giving me something to ponder.


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