Pain is a complex beast! Ever wondered why you experience pain? The truth is, the answer to this question is EXTREMELY complex. Pain is very subjective, multifactorial and different for everyone. We do know however that understanding the mechanisms by which pain works and the factors that influence it can HELP our pain.
Read on to learn 5 things that will help you if you’re in pain:
1) Pain is 100% produced by the brain.
No, that doesn’t mean the pain is “all in your head”. It means that pain is not just a message from damaged tissues to be accepted at face value, but a complex experience that is thoroughly tuned by your brain.
Sensors in your body detect a stimulus in the tissue, whilst it’s the brain who decides what to make of it, how to feel about it, and what to do about it if anything at all.
2) Pain doesn’t equal damage!
3) What is pain?
Pain is the body’s ALARM system. It becomes active when you are sick or injured and incites you to take action.
Acute pain (nociceptive pain) is a reaction to a painful stimulus – think a paper cut, sprained ankle, or sitting on a tack. Acute pain is generally simple to treat and fades away as you begin to feel better.
Chronic pain is pain that persists after the body should have healed. It’s important to note that for any injury in the body, in most cases it is completely healed by 3-6 months. Pain beyond this is less about structural changes in the body and more about the sensitivity of the nervous system. This pain may not be warning you of damage occurring in the body, so there is no longer a direct link between pain and harm being caused by the (preceding) injury or disease.
4) What does science tell us about pain in the body?
- Pain is not an accurate indicator of the severity of injury
- Pain systems can become over protective. The longer someone experiences pain, the better their system becomes at producing it.
- Pain systems can be trained to be less protective
Okay, so my pain doesn’t necessarily mean there’s something wrong with me, but what can I do about it?!
5) There are two ways to retrain your pain system to take control of your ongoing pain experience:
Understand your pain better
This encompasses knowing how pain is produced (see above), whilst also understanding the other factors outside the tissues that contribute to your pain experience. The context of your pain is everything!
Pain is amplified by:
- Being stressed or anxious about anything
- Feeling low, depressed or worried
- Avoiding activity
- Feeling unwell or tired
- Relying on passive treatments
- The things you say and the things other people say (eg. someone telling you “the same thing happened to me and I’ve never been the same!”
- Pressures at home or at work
- Financial stress
- Long-term opioid use
- Everyday life
Pain is dampened down by:
- Exercising regularly
- Reducing Stress
- Eating and sleeping well
- Working with a supportive clinician
- Taking control of your recovery
- Knowing that there is a scientifically proven pathway out
- Everyday life
Re-think and challenge your beliefs about the best way to recover (it’s probably not what you thought!)
- Exercise IS GOOD and NOT BAD for pain. It will take time, repetition, periods of frustration and small improvements before you really believe that increasing activity is safe. It’s usual to feel some discomfort after you exercise (and during for those who have been in pain for a long time). Part of the rehabilitation process involves “poking the bear”, which involves working into pain whilst recognising no damage is being done. This can help lead to gradual improvement.
- Rest is unhelpful. Your tissues are healed after 3-6 months remember?! Gotta get moving and get your tissues strong for them to feel their best.
In summary, pain is tricky! Recognising pain doesn’t equal tissue damage, is dependent on the brain’s interpretation, is the output of a MULTITUDE of factors and in chronic pain the tissues have healed and exercise helps is a very helpful place to start.
To learn more, check out the following links for some great video resources:
Alternatively, if you’d like to kickstart your journey to help get past pain and back to the life you love, book online here or call the clinic on 8490 0777.
-The Thrive Physio Plus Team