Understanding Pain

You’re in pain and frustrated. Pain takes over every aspect of your life. It’s mentally exhausting and it can be an emotional wrecking ball. Physically, pain can drain you of every ounce of energy you once possessed.

Pain can sneak its way into your life and take away precious moments you will never get back. It prevents you from being fully active in your life, in your spouse’s life, in your children’s lives, in your grandchildren’s lives. It feels like you have to schedule your life around your pain and you have no control.

Understanding pain can help you regain control.

Learning to understand pain is a way you can start to regain some control. When we have knowledge about something, we generally have less fear and anxiety surrounding the problem.

Take a moment and consider what it would mean to you if you could discover what’s been holding you back. What would it feel like to gain insight into why your efforts have not delivered the results you crave?

How would your mental state improve by beginning to understand why you haven’t been given acceptable answers? How empowered would you feel to explore all aspects of your life, taking full responsibility for your wellness to propel you forward?

Imagine the life you could create if you weren’t burdened by pain and movement restrictions.

Imagine how it would feel. What would it look like? Where would you go? What adventures would you choose? How would your relationships improve if you could be fully present in your life without these distractions?

Understanding pain, learning about the mechanisms of injuries and various traumas, and how it may be affecting you can help you discover the best options available to assist in your recovery strategy.

Pain doesn’t necessarily mean damage.

It would be so much easier if we could pinpoint one exact cause or trauma that created this experience, but that’s not how our Systems are organized.

The Central Nervous System (CNS) is constantly gathering and processing information from internal and external environments to keep you safe and to create balance. Your brain houses the ability to process emotion, all of our senses, our motor functions including coordination of movement, balance and equilibrium, and posture; it evaluates higher mental functions such as concentration, planning, judgement, and creativity.

That is a lot of information happening at a rapid pace. The output of this information can be pain. Pain is a signal for change and it is necessary for survival.

Pain is normal and necessary.

Noxious stimuli can activate our nerve receptors called Nociceptors. These Nociceptors send information to the brain via the spinal cord indicating that there is a potential for danger. They respond to physical, chemical, and temperature stressors. In reality, these receptors are a great motivator to let the body know that there may be a threat or injury imminent and you may want to do something about it.

Think of it as a safety switch. Often, this noxious stimuli is processed and perceived as non threatening so the body continues on as usual. An example that most of us have experienced at some point in our lives would be getting a paper cut. Yes, it hurts a bit, but in the larger scheme of things, it’s not a significant life changing experience and you will recover quickly. There is no need to fear the paper.

This is where pain can get weird.

In the normal response of Nociceptors they can become highly active or overly sensitive to any real or perceived threat after sustaining injury, small or large. #protectthehuman

Let’s imagine that once upon a time you sliced open your finger while cutting up a piece of fruit. It was a nasty cut, so much blood, and you were properly alarmed that it may have caused some nerve damage. You wrapped it up and made a fear-drenched, mad dash to the ER. They proceeded to stitch you up and send you on your way with instructions to keep it clean and a wave of ‘good luck’ out the door. Their response to your turmoil did not in fact match your own.

Your body experienced actual trauma, real tissue damage. The Nociceptors are now sensitive to stimuli and are going to do their job very well, putting you on high alert in the future when around any sharp and pointy objects.

What does this mean for a tiny paper cut? It’s now entirely possible that if you get a paper cut where you have this previous trauma the Nociceptors may trigger a disproportionate response to this new ‘threat’. This seemingly small, nonthreatening piece of paper may create an agonizing response that lasts for days. Utterly ridiculous, I know, but exactly what the Systems are designed to do: keep you safe.

Understanding pain is weird.

Pain can have a multitude of influences affecting it. Social influences, emotions, beliefs you have adopted can all be involved with chronic pain. Obviously, this goes well beyond tissue damage.

After trauma, the input from the nerves is now corrupted. Overly sensitized information to the brain can cause a massive disproportionate reaction from the brain. Poor input equals poor output.

Continuous irritation to tissue damage from stress, lack of sleep, fear, anger, anxiety, memories, etc will fuel the fire of sensitization. Basically, the longer you have pain, the better you are at being in pain, and the more sensitive those Nociceptors become.

Being sensitized like this can cause your pain to travel around to different areas seemingly not involved with an original injury, can cause you to be sensitive to light, various temperatures, smells, more irritable or emotionally fragile to small things, or feel excruciating pain with the slightest touch. Sound familiar? Anyone in chronic pain is raising their hand and nodding vigorously.

You have the ability to desensitize your pain.

If you are living with chronic pain you know exactly what I’m talking about. You may not realize it, but I’m hoping that I can help you to understand. You have adapted. When you are always in pain there are shifts in the intensity and duration. Perhaps this will ring a bell; some days are better than others.

It shifts. Days where you know you have a lot to accomplish or days that you have activities that you are not willing to miss; pain takes a backseat. Unknowingly and effectively, you have turned down your response to pain in order to do these things. The Nociceptors are still there, they are still processing and sending those danger potential signals, but they are turned down. They are mellowed out. Until…

Until you stop doing what you were doing. Until the day is over, the activity has ended, and all you have forefront in your mind is that you are in pain. And you think to yourself, “I did it to myself. I knew I was going to pay for that.” This thought process and belief system fuels your perception of pain.

Here’s what you should focus on; that brief respite has shown you that you can change your pain. You played, you laughed and enjoyed, you lived your life doing the things you wanted or needed to do. And the pain was not your focus during those events. This is something you can nourish and grow. This is something that you can make permanent.

With effort and time, you can change your response to the sensitivity and the overactive danger signals. You might still have pain, as we all do for any number of reasons, but the way that pain affects you and the meaning or importance you give to your pain can change. You can still live well and have pain.

Understanding pain and how it affects you grants you the ability do something about it. You can be an active participant and use the tools at your disposal in order to recover from pain and build your recovery strategy.

Speak your mind, but think before you speak.