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What your doctor (usually) doesn’t explain about pain.

Has your health care provider ever explained to you what pain actually is?

What your doctor (usually) doesn’t explain about pain.

Explaining pain is not a common practice in health care. Why? Lack of understanding. Time constraints. Pain sells treatment, and health care is a business.

When I ask my patients how they would define pain, I get a variety of answers, mostly inaccurate. Some explain that it means you have injured yourself, some that there is inflammation present, and most people haven’t really thought about it.

You can have inflammation or an acute injury without pain, and conversely, you can have pain without inflammation or acute injury.

The IASP defines Pain as “an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage…” (1) Note the distinction of actual OR POTENTIAL tissue damage. What you are doing or have done may or may NOT have caused damage to your body, and you can still be in pain.

When most people attempt to describe pain, what I have found is that they are actually thinking of Nociception. Nociception is a physiological process whereby receptors in your body respond to chemical (i.e.: local inflammation, thermal, or mechanical stimuli somewhere in your body. When any of these stimuli are present in your body, special types of neurons increase their signalling to your brain. It is up to the brain to decide whether or not the stimuli is significant enough to actually threaten your wellbeing or your life. IF the brain decides it’s worth paying attention to, you will experience pain, so that you do something about it.

I’ll keep this brief, and leave you to chew on this small thought bite for now. Please peruse my other articles for more discussion of theories, practicalities, and philosophies on pain.

More on this: https://youtu.be/1ylbrkstYtU
One of my favourite pain researchers TED Talks gives an excellent example to help you conceptualize this.


1. https://www.iasp-pain.org/Education/Content.aspx?ItemNumber=1698#Pain

2. Image courtesy of https://www.medicaldaily.com


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