The majority of the people I work with experience some kind of pain. Sometimes it’s from a recent injury, and sometimes it’s been happening for years. But how many of us actually know that much about the pain experience? 

For so many people, they’ve been experiencing this constant, chronic pain, but there’s a huge lack of accessible information about pain. Today, I seek to remedy that.

Some Pain Basics

To begin with, there are two major mechanisms of musculoskeletal pain. The first is damage to the body tissues itself— a few examples include bruises and sprains. 

The second mechanism involves the brain and spinal cord processing pain signals without any damage to the tissues. 

Generally, for tissue damage, we expect the injury to last from around 3 to 6 weeks. If it takes longer, there are contributions from the brain and spinal cord (also known as the central nervous system, or CNS) which create that extended pain experience, even when the tissue itself is healed. 

When pain lasts longer for three months, it is chronic, which is a whole different beast. Many factors are involved with chronic pain beyond just tissue damage. When treating chronic pain, we take a brain down approach over a direct tissue approach.

Similarly to the way that your brain and body remember emotionally traumatic experiences, they will also remember pain. A negative emotional connection to a painful event causes a more painful experience, and can even trigger pain in response to a previous, healed injury.

Factors that Influence the Pain Experience

There are a LOT of factors that influence pain– an almost overwhelming amount. These factors are biological, social, and psychological– but we’ll be focusing mostly on a few of the psychological factors today. 

Did you know that thoughts, beliefs, and cultural attitudes all impact your experience of pain? In fact, even just your thought processes are powerful enough to keep your body in a state of pain and keep inflammation in your tissues for longer. 

Additionally, what your medical providers communicate to you can contribute to a more painful experience– for example, your doctor telling you “this is the worst case I’ve ever seen!” 

Previous ineffective medical care also leads to more severe flare ups and pain experiences. This is because it impacts your belief about whether or not you will ever receive good care, and freedom from your pain. Believe it or not, the things you believe about yourself and your experience have a huge impact on your pain. 

In fact, there are two major predictors of disability from pain: the first is fear avoidant behaviors, and the second is self efficacy beliefs. In other words, being so afraid of more pain or injury that you’re overly cautious of activity, and whether or not you believe in your capacity to heal and get better. These predictors are considered better even than the duration and intensity of the pain. 

Mindset

As you can see, your mindset has a huge impact on your experience of pain. If someone believes or holds the attitude that they must be pain free before they can continue productive activity, they are not only incorrect, but also hindering the healing process.

If you wait to be pain-free before resuming your activities, when you inevitably do experience a minor pain as your body adjusts, your mind will fixate and attribute greater significance to the event, rather than taking it as a normal part of returning to activity. 

However, if you resume the activity without being pain free while understanding that you will experience minor pain, but that it is not significant or harmful, you are working with the healing process, and setting yourself up for a better recovery. 

Interestingly, pain worsens when you cease the activities you love. And, because movement releases endorphins (also known as your body’s natural painkillers), when you stop those activities, you end up with less of that painkilling effect– thereby increasing your pain. 

Some people view their body as a machine, and expect an easy or straightforward solution, an A-to-B fix; but that just isn’t the way humans function. Your body is more like an ecosystem than a machine. When something doesn’t work properly, it impacts the entire ecosystem to differing degrees. In this sense, everything is connected.

Conclusion

This was by no means an exhaustive explanation of pain, but hopefully you learned something new and interesting. While often we think of pain as something bad, at its core it is a signal that something needs our attention, and we have a duty to respond well: by finding and addressing the root of the issue– whatever that may be. 

Did you enjoy learning about pain? Do you want more blogs like this? Reply to this and let us know if you found this helpful!

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