What Is Pain? Am I Damaged? How Can I Help Myself?

Author: musclemedicssydney
Date: 12 March 2019

What Is Pain?

We aim to give you a rudimentary description of what pain is, how you can help or hinder yourself and what it may mean to you. If you take nothing else away remember this:

  • PAIN IS PROTECTIVE – IT IS YOUR BODY’S WAY OF MOTIVATING YOU TO TAKE ACTION
  • PAIN IS NOT A TRUE MEASURE OF TISSUE HEALTH

But why do we all experience pain differently even when issues are identical? Why do some people’s pain decrease at a faster rate than others?

All of our bodies contain sensory receptors called ‘Nociceptors’. They become activated by unpleasant stimuli (such as touching a hot object or banging your big toe) and send messages to the spinal cord via nerves.

These signals from nerves in tissues mean there is the POTENTIAL for tissue damage and perhaps you might want to do something about it. The spinal cord then acts as a secretary receiving a call and makes a decision on whether or not to send the message onward to the boss (the brain).

Ever noticed a bruise on your body which you don’t remember occurring? Now comes the interesting part…

Let’s say the signal gets sent on up to the brain/boss. Here is where the magic happens. You get to make a subconscious decision of how important that information is. You essentially ask “Is there really a threat here?”. If you think there is a threat then pain will likely emerge. But none of this occurs consciously. What we’ve learned is that pain is multidimensional. Meaning a huge number of things go into to making that decision. Nociception is just one part.

So If An Unpleasant Stimulus Is Only One Part Of The Decision What Else Is There?

What researchers are discovering is that pain is multidimensional, it’s no longer only tissue damage which is seen as the driving force for how much pain we experience. But a multitude of factors unique to us which decide how much pain we feel and how long we receive it for.

The Cup Of Pain

All of these factors combined with tissue damage (and in some cases without damage) are interpreted by our brains and pain is provided. Together they form the ‘BIOPSYCHOSOCIAL’ MODEL.

BIO refers to the biological aspect of the pain (which is what manual therapy works on).

PSYCHOSOCIAL refers to everything else which can contribute to your distress and hence increase the pain.

​Have you ever noticed, during stressful periods at work your aches and pains are amplified? Or fear of pain in your body has caused your mind to conjure up all sorts of scenario’s making the sensation feel worse?

Am I Damaged?​

My Anecdotal Experience

After taking a tumble off my motorbike many years ago and suffering what I perceived as severe swelling around my knee, I convinced myself I had dislocated my knee cap. I couldn’t bend it or put any weight on it without severe pain and uncontrollable fear of my own irrational diagnosis of my knee.

During my second visit to the Doctor, I was told in no uncertain way that my knee was not dislocated and encouraged to bend it. To my surprise, I could do bend my knee and proceeded to walk out with reduced pain and my fears laid to rest. This blew my mind.

​Have you noticed that some people can hold a hot mug of coffee with no problem whilst the rest of us dance around trying to find somewhere to put it?

Do these people have some kind of super power which makes them immune to this sensation? Or have they picked up hundreds of cups in the past making their body aware there is no threat present as such no motivator to put the hot cup down.

This can work in reverse! The first hot mug you come in contact with is likely to create pain. As it is a new stimulus, the body may perceive a potential threat of us burning ourselves.

How Can I Help Myself

Pain should always be investigated and helped. Chronic pain can become ingrained within the nerve pathways and persist long after any tissue damage has gone through its cycle of repair.

We all have our own unique cup filled with the life you lead. Make an assessment of what is in your cup and look to reduce it.

For example: If your lower back or neck hurts during stressful periods at work where you probably sit down for long periods, you may have other fillers in your cup including:

  • ​Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Lack of movement
  • Less sleep
  • Poor nutrition due to lack of time

All of these factors fill up your cup and amplify your pain. Small things can go a long way and you do have the scope to help yourself! So what can you improve in your cup?

  • Pre-plan healthy food options that are quick and ready for you
  • Vary sitting and standing positions
  • Set an alarm to remind you move! Walk around the office every half an hour

Muscle Medics use various tools to manage your pain including:

  • Remedial Massage to calm your nervous system
  • A variety of Active Release Techniques to increase your ability to move pain free
  • Education to coach you through times of discomfort and injury

Resources

Find out more about pain and its components – Dr Greg Lehman’s Pain Guide Book.
Persistent Pain: Key Questions Answered – Tame the Beast

Leave a Reply