Pain? What is it really?


The International Association for the Study of Pain defines pain as follows:

“Pain is an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential damage, or described in terms of such damage.”

So what does that mean anyway?

  1. Pain doesn’t feel good.
  2. Pain is influenced by our emotional status.
  3. There may or may not be any trauma to the body.

Put differently, per Dr. Lorimer Moseley, Ph.D., a world-renowned pain researcher and clinician at the Prince of Wales Medical Research Institute in Sydney, Australia:

“Pain is the conscious correlate of the implicit perception of threat to body tissue.”

Huh?!

This suggests that pain does not originate in the tissue due to injury or a degenerative process.  Instead, it is a very complex interaction between the peripheral tissues (e.g. torn muscle, knee arthritis, lumbar disc herniation, whiplash injury, broken bone) and the brain. The brain processes information as follows:

  1. From your experiences in life – how did your family deal with pain when you were growing up?
  2. Cultural factors – Italian men have been shown to be stimulated by a blue placebo pill and sedated by a red one while men of other cultures in the study experienced the opposite.
  3. Social and work environments – if you enjoy your job and like your boss then less pain may be experienced than if you don’t.
  4. Your expectations as to what might happen as a consequence of the pain – if you do not have an adequate understanding of a particular injury you have sustained you might be concerned as to how you will return to work or your hobby/sport and thus experience more pain.

So pain is an output from the brain after the brain has processed all the above information as well as the nerve impulses coming from the injured area, called sensory input.  Once it has synthesized the need for an output you will then “be told by your brain” if something is painful or not. Think about the person I spoke to a few years ago who had a motor cycle accident and felt minimal pain when she stopped skidding along the highway and noticed her leg 20 feet away from her!  Why no pain then? The brain had compiled an appropriate response at that time that suggested she had more important survival needs and thus did not feel pain. When she was loaded into the ambulance and the emergency personnel took over (they were in charge of survival now) she began to feel pain.

So what kind of output from the brain results once it has decided there needs to be a response to the “painful situation?”

  1. Pain is produced which makes us do something to address the “dangerous”  position we are in.
  2. The sympathetic nervous system causes the fight or flight reflex.  Increases in heart rate occur.  Energy systems are stimulated.  We sweat. We are ready to take evasive action!
  3. Muscles are reactive and are set to fight or run away as well as protect the damaged area. If you have torn a hamstring muscle you know you cannot move due to spasms – a physiological brace per se!
  4. The endocrine system is mobilized and in so doing hormones circulate in the blood stream to help mobilize energy for use by the muscles and reduce other nonessential body functions such as intestinal motility.

The most recent research into pain has changed the viewpoint from one of a noxious stimulus causing pain (i.e. a peripheral origin of pain) to one of the brain being the decision maker as to what is painful and what is not (i.e. a central origin of pain). How complicated is that! It is not as simple as treating the injured tissue to relieve the pain. Pain needs to be treated from multiple angles with a multi-disciplinary approach.

YOU CALL TO ACTION!

  1. Check out Dr. Lorimer Moseley’s blog at : http://bodyinmind.org/resources/journal-articles/full-text-articles/reconceptualising-pain-according-to-modern-pain-science/
  2. What do you think of this new concept of how pain is generated? Post your ideas on this blog for others to read.
  3. Invite a friend who is struggling with pain to read this.
  4. Call us at any of our three clinics if you have any questions:

Sparks location: 775-331-1199

South Reno location: 775-853-9966

Northwest location: 775-746-9222

2 thoughts on “Pain? What is it really?

  1. Hopefully there will be more, less subjective, articles about pain interpretation and pain management. Definitely some good points in this article but pain management has a much bigger picture – i.e. neuropathic vs nociceptive pain, length of time since injury etc. The fact that a trauma patient did not feel pain at the time of the original injury is common and more complex than just the brain prioritizing survival.
    LIke the blog and hope more patients and professionals take advantage of this platform – good job CPT as usual ! Spectacular team you are !

    Like

    • There is a seminar on pain scheduled for October 20th in our Sparks clinic entitled “A Modern Understanding of Pain: What is it really? How should we treat it?” Ron Hicks, M.D. and Andre Meintjes, M.P.T., Ph.D. (thats me) will be talking about concepts of pain and ideas about treatment. You hit it on the head Debbie! It is more complicated than the concepts addressed in the short blog post and this will be expanded in the seminar next month. Hopefully you can be there to add to the expertise. Thanks for your post. Keep em coming!

      Like

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