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Why am I in Pain?

By Tanushka Alva

What is Pain?

Before you read any further, I would like you to take a moment and think - what does being in pain mean to you, what is the purpose of pain?

I often ask this question of people and I get very similar answers across the board.

The meaning of pain is often interpreted as:

  • something is wrong, 
  • something is out of place, 
  • there is some damage, 
  • I am getting older, 
  • it’s wear and tear, bone on bone

Most of these answers have been guided by our beliefs or what we have been told by a health care provider or someone in our family or social circle or even Dr Google!

What if I told you that the purpose of pain is protection? Have a think about it for a second.

Pain and damage to our bodies

We used to think that pain equals damage but our understanding around pain has changed in recent times. Pain is often not a very accurate measure of how much damage is present in our body.

We can often have damage or injury without having pain-think of the bruise you saw on your body and wondered, how did that get there?

We can also have pain without any injury or damage- take your finger nails and give your earlobes a good squeeze, stop when you experience pain.

There was research completed in 2015, where they did MRIs (Imaging or scans) on a group of people’s lower back region and they found several changes in their spine. This was a wonderful study because none of these people actually reported having pain or other symptoms!

This is just one study about the lower back. There is an ample amount of evidence showing similar findings in other regions of the body. This does not mean, that you should ignore the pain that you are experiencing or that it is not significant and it doesn't mean the pain is all in your head. All pain is real, 100% of the time and it is extremely personal to the individual who is experiencing it.

What else can influence my pain?

Many things influence the pain that we experience. Pain can be influenced by the things we hear, see, smell, taste and touch, places we go, people in our lives, things you say, things you think and believe as well as the things happening in your body.

Think of stubbing your toe at a party versus stubbing your toe after a fight with a loved one, you probably know which one will hurt more. If we understand that the role of pain is to protect us, it is easier to realise that anything that increases the threat to our nervous system will increase the amount of pain we experience. Similarly, the more safe we feel, the less the amount or intensity of pain we may experience. It is like turning the volume up and down on the stereo.

What can I do to get better?

Research has allowed us to understand that there is a lot more to pain than just the messages coming from our body? That is what makes the experience of pain so tricky and confusing for some people.

Learning about pain is one of the first things you can do to start you on your journey to recovery. You do not have to do this on your own or live with it for the rest of your life. Seek assistance and advice from a pain informed health professional and find out how you can get back to doing things that are meaningful to you.

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