female with chronic pain neck

What is Pain? Part 1

Do you know what pain is? Why things hurt sometimes? Pain is a lot more complex than most people think.

In this 3 Part blog we will explain what pain is and how osteopathy can help you.

The International Association for the Study of Pain describes pain as “an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage, or described in terms of such damage” (IASP, 2020).

Pain is the result of complex brain processes, which are influenced by overlapping physical (nociceptive and neuropathic), psychological, and environmental factors (Pain Australia, 2020):

  • Physical and biological: tissue health (disease severity), physiology, genetics, inflammation, brain function…
  • Psychological: your beliefs, sleep, past injury and pain experiences, mood, stress, anxiety, anger, copying, catastrophizing, self-efficiency…
  • Social factors: work, family, social environment, economic status, social support, cultural factors, scepticism…
Pain description as multifactorial

Have you ever cut your finger with a paper? Was it really painful even though the cut was not deep or large? On the other hand, have you ever found a cut or blood in your hand and you did not even notice how you did it? That’s how complex pain is! it is not all about the size of the injury!!! The same can happen in your back or your neck. It might be really painful, but most of the time it is not serious.

“Pain is one way our body’s protective systems keep us safe. Danger detectors in the body send information to the brain, which may or may not create pain based on all the other information available, as well as previous experiences. Danger detectors signal when tissue is approaching its safe limit, so most pain prevents tissue damage. When tissue is damaged, danger detectors become much more sensitive. Psychological and social factors, as well as past experiences, can powerfully influence pain by complex mechanisms in the brain” (Pain Australia, 2020).

All pain is an individual human experience that is entirely subjective and can only truly be appreciated by the person experiencing the pain.  A person’s attitudes, beliefs and personality can strongly affect their pain experience.

A simplistic classification of pain:

Acute pain is pain that lasts for a short time and occurs following surgery or trauma or other condition. It acts as a warning to the body to seek help. It’s a danger alarm.

Sub-acute pain is pain that is progressing towards chronic pain, but this progression may be prevented. This is known as the transition phase.

Recurrent pain is pain that occurs on a cyclical basis, such as migraine or pelvic pain.

Chronic pain is pain that lasts beyond the time expected for healing following surgery or trauma or other condition. It is often associated with an increased pain experience, not just in the area of injury, but also in surrounding tissue or nerves. It can also exist without a clear reason at all.

If you would like to learn more about pain, I recommend you watch the following 15 minutes TED video by Professor Lorimer Moseley: Why things hurt.

In Part 2, we will talk a little more about chronic pain and how acute pain becomes chronic.

Stay tuned.

Do you have any questions or doubts regarding pain? Please, do not hesitate to contact us via the CONTACT FORM or call the clinic and ask to talk to your osteopath.

We used some of the information provided by Pain Australia to write this blog. Visit their website if you would like more in depth information.

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