Pain – Defender NOT an Offender

Pain is defined as ‘an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage, or described in terms of such damage’. The definition itself demonstrates the multifactorial nature of our pain experience that includes physical health, genetics, beliefs and attitudes, work, family and relationships. 

Pain is normal. Pain is something we’re all familiar with, to some extent, and is something we’ll all experience at some point in our lives. It also helps the healing process following an injury as it helps us to protect areas that are hurting and so we tend to use them less, allowing the area to heal quicker in the initial stages.

Pain is usually considered to be a warning sign to your body that damage, or the threat of damage, has occurred. But our pain response can be too sensitive sometimes. If the fire alarm goes off inside your house, does it always mean there is a fire? The same is true of pain.

Our pain response to ‘potential’ damage also demonstrates that increased pain does not always means increased damage. Studies have demonstrated a poor relationship between pain and findings of normal/abnormal spines on Xrays (Savage et al, 1997).

Your experience of pain is an outcome of all of these processes, and is nearly always accompanied by an emotional response which is unique to you. 

If you fell over and sprained your ankle, you would probably feel pain.

If you fell over, sprained your ankle but then a bus starts driving straight towards you, would your pain levels remain the same? Or would your emotional response change? And thus change your pain experience. 

There are stories in the media of builders stepping on nails and feel excruciating pain, only to later realise that the nail had pierced the shoes and rested between his toes. The visual perception took over and the pain to him was very real!

We do not have pain signals sent up to our brain. We have sensory signals sent to our brain, and it is our brain that then interprets them as dangerous or not. Our emotion is then added onto this before an appropriate response is delivered (i.e. pain or no pain).

But… can you imagine a life without pain?

If you lived a life without feeling pain, what kind of implications could this have on your life? 

·      If you suffer an injury and do not feel pain, the chances of making the injury more severe and chronic are increased.

·      If you break a bone, you may not immediately be aware and the break may lead to a malunion (poorly healed bone) or a non-union (permanent failing of healed bone).

·      If you suffer internal trauma to your organs, you may not be aware.

·      You may not seek medical treatment when you really need it.

Pain is very very real. It is a product of physical, emotional and social interactions and is unique to all of us. It is there to protect us and should be respected and understood, not feared.

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