Pain is an important sensation to have. Without it, we would be completely unaware of injuries until they impact our life. Some people have no pain receptors or have no sensation at all which can be problematic. For example, when they touch a hot stove they might not notice the severe burn on their fingers.
Pain is the human body’s way of alerting that there might be risk or danger. Think of pain like the engine light in your car or a smoke detector siren. But pain is an imperfect alert system. The same way an engine light can go off without problems or a smoke detector can go off without smoke, pain does not always mean danger or damage to the human body.
Hurt does not equal harm.
It is an untrue that the level of your pain is equal to the level of damage in the body.
A severe ankle sprain can sometimes cause no pain. Very minor joint sprains can sometimes cause extreme pain.
Take for example, the classic story published in the British Medical Journal of a man who fell off of a roof and had a nail pierce his left boot, with the 5cm nail extruding from the boot. Screaming from severe pain, the man was sedated with heavy opioid medication yet still had pain. On removing the nail from the boot, the man and doctors found that the nail had not touched his foot at all and had pierced the space between his toes! There is no questioning that the man’s pain was very real however the level of damage was not equal to his pain.
I have been told I have ‘chronic pain’ and I have pain all the time!
Chronic refers to the amount of time you have had persistent pain.
As mentioned above, pain is our alert system that we may be at risk the same way a smoke detector is a system to alert risk of fire. However just because the smoke detector goes off – that doesn’t necessarily mean there is a fire.
Pain that has been ongoing for a long period can create a sensitivity to creating pain – this can mean that pain arises even when there is no danger of injury. For example, gently touching or moving a sensitive area of a previous injury can set off a pain response without further injury.
What can I do about persistent pain?
Understanding what pain is and recognizing whether you are safe to move is the first step to taking control of your body again. A Physiotherapist is an expert in assessing the site of pain and finding out why pain is there and how you might be able to get back to normality. They have the ability to assess whether or not you require further imaging and to provide context for the results.
We know that activity and exercise can have fantastic effects on persistent pain to help people. We also know that mental and lifestyle factors can affect the pain response. Physical inactivity, poor pacing of activity, sleep habits and other health conditions can make pain worse. Mental barriers such as fear of movement, fear of pain as well as stress, anxiety, depression and anger are all factors that may impact your condition.
A Physiotherapist specializes in helping you understand your pain and then even better, helping you find the safe path to getting back to doing the things you love.