This will be a multi-segment series on current evidence in pain science.
What is Pain?
Our understanding of pain has changed quite a bit from the old days. We now know that pain is the brain’s interpretation of a stimulus received from specific nerve endings called nociceptors. Nociceptor is derived from the Latin root nocere for “to harm.” Think of pain as the defensive “output” by the brain’s measured response to the nociceptive “input.” There are a number of external factors, however, that can affect how the brain interprets these stimuli as “pain” – medicine, thoughts/emotions, diet/lifestyle, your personal experiences when the pain developed, and physical activity.
Who has Pain?
Simply put, everyone has pain. Is all pain created equal? Well, science hasn’t taken us that far…yet. Although many people may say they have a high tolerance for pain, there is no exact method to evaluate individuals’ pain tolerance.
How is time a factor in Pain?
There are two types of pain when referring to time – acute and chronic. Acute pain is of a shorter duration, usually 3 months or less, that typically follows an injury, surgery, or disease which results in tissue damage. Pain which lasts for longer than 3 months is called chronic or persistent pain. From 3-6 months most of the body’s tissues will be healed as well as they can be. So, as pain persists, its relationship to the state of tissue weakens and becomes more a factor of a hypersensitive nervous system.
Why should I understand my Pain?
There are two major reasons why understanding your pain is important. First – patient education has been shown to reduce health care utilization for those with low back pain. Education is the perfect tool for retraining your brain how to interpret a stimulus. Second – that interpretation changes how your brain perceives danger. Changing one’s evaluation of danger is very likely to change pain.