The Pain Mystery with Joe Soojian, PT, DPT, OCS
What is pain and why do we feel it differently?
Historically, pain was thought to be experienced linearly in relation to tissue damage or injury. As our understanding has advanced though, we’ve come to the realization that there are far more factors than this. For example, have you ever had a tiny, almost imperceptible, paper cut? Those things hurt! On the other hand, maybe you’ve found larger bruises on your body that give you surprisingly little or even no discomfort. Clearly, the scale of tissue damage and pain doesn’t always line up directly with the pain you experience.
Over time, our understanding of what pain is and how we experience it has evolved. We now understand that the sensation of pain is information taken in, integrated into our brain and nervous system, and then sent out as pain. This processing of information is colored not only by our physiology, but by our beliefs, values, emotions and our past experiences. People can experience not only physical pain, but also emotional pain, and in any combination. That is why each person’s pain experience is unique. Combining these contextual factors explains why everyone experiences pain differently. This is why addressing pain must be done on such an individualized basis.
Know this: No matter how you personally experience your pain, it is real. The good news is there are ways to help with it.
You’ve already taken the first step in managing your pain by simply reading this article. Having a basic understanding of the pain experience and these influencing factors can help to manage your pain by removing some of the mystery and anxiety around the situation. Knowledge is the first foothold in taking control of your situation instead of letting the pain control you.
A Case Study on Changing the Experience of Pain
Jen has been told her back has Degenerative Arthritis, and she understands that her back is “Degenerating.” As a result she avoids walking and strenuous activities that bring on some of the pain. The fact is, there is no clear correlation between general degenerative changes in the spine and pain. Expanded activity may actually be what is therapeutic for Jen. Having accurate information and education unique to her condition allows Jen to create a fundamental change in the way she experiences her pain.