What is Pain?

By Pain

Pain. Most of us have experienced pain at some point in our life. However , even though most of us have experienced the perception of pain at some point in our lives, many of us don’t exactly know what it means or carry some misconceptions about it! This article aims to address those misconceptions and answer the questions “What is pain?” And “What does it mean? ”

Pain is defined as an “unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage.” This means that pain does not always correlate to the amount of tissue damage. Have you ever noticed a bruise on your body that you dont remember getting? That is a perfect example of tissue damage occuring(the bruise) but no pain.

On the other hand, paper cuts can be very painful but the tissue damage is so minor ! This is because pain is multifactorial and is NOT solely dependent on what happens to the body and is influenced in large part by our thoughts, beliefs and the context of the injury.

Imagine you sprain your ankle while home alone compared to suffering the exact same injury while crossing a busy street. In the second scenario, your brain will determine that the greater priority is to first safely cross the street and will therefore make the ankle hurt much less immediately until you get to safety.

The fact that pain is basically a product of the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) and that is influenced by our thoughts and beliefs in addition to actual physical happenings to the body means several things.

The first is that seemingly scary findings on x-ray or MRI such as bulging discs or arthritis do not always have to hurt! In fact, there is a very poor correlation to imaging and pain. Numerous studies have shown that people can have no pain despite numerous findings on imaging, while some people can have debilitating pain with seemingly no correlated structural abnormalities. The second is that being active, socializing with friends and family , returning to activity and having a general positive outlook can have beneficial effects on the resolution of pain especially when combined with the appropriate medical treatment depending on the condition.

Ultimately, the human body is a wonderful organism with a great capacity to heal itself from just about any injury, including the dreaded back injury which most of us who lead active lives will experience at some point. So next time you are experiencing some pain keep the following in mind:

  1. Return to some form of activity as soon as possible. While rest can be important in the initial stages, the body recovers best when it is up and moving as that increases blood flow which lead to healing.
  2. Don’t be afraid of a little pain. After an injury, the injured area will be “sensitized” which means that pain will typically come on way before the point where more damage will occur. That doesnt mean completely ignore the pain as that can potentially lead to making things more sensitive, just that its okay to push things a little bit more each day.

If you are not sure about how to best return to activity after experiencing some pain, it is best to consult a physical therapist who can determine the nature of your pain and develop a step by step plan to gradually return you to all of your favorite activities!

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