There are many four letter words in the English language. Which one pops into your head?
In the physiotherapy world, the most common four letter word would be PAIN.
Unfortunately, although commonly used, the word “pain" is poorly understood. And not just by patients.
“What is pain?” is a common question that health practitioners have struggled to answer well for a long time.
Fortunately, research into pain has progressed in the past 20 years and the answer is becoming clearer.
So, what is pain?
Pain is a sensation that your brain produces when it needs to tell you that there is potential danger to the body. For example, the pain you feel when accidently touching a hot pan on the stove top is your brain warning you that the hot pan is harmful.
Apart from detecting changes to the body, the brain collects a lot of different information when an injury occurs. This will determine whether it is necessary that you feel pain or not. Examples of these are the physical location where you were when the injury occurred; if you have had a similar injury before; or even your mood at the time of injury, will determine if you feel pain or not.
Acute pain can last a few milliseconds to a few weeks depending on the type of danger. It is a warning signal sent by the brain. The messages alert you to remove your hand from the hot pan, or maybe to go see the doctor. Once the perceived danger is removed, the pain goes away. In this instance, it is important that your brain warns you of the impending danger.
Sometimes, the pain does not improve. What happens there?
In some situations, even after the tissue heals and you have been physically removed from danger, pain may still persist.
The reason for this is that the brain still perceives that the body is under threat and continues to produce pain as a protective mechanism.
Current research suggests (some of which can be found at www.chronicpainaustralia.org.au) that this is due to heightened sensitivity of the central nervous system meaning that your brain is on high alert and may start perceiving even non dangerous stimuli as harmful. This is called central sensitisation.
All pain is created by the decisions of the brain. The better your understanding of pain, the faster your recovery.
Now do you know what pain is? Would love to know your thoughts on this in the comments section below?