What We Used to Think
The medical community used to think that pain was a direct sensation indicating tissue damage. The only way to feel pain was to be injured in some way. In actuality, this isn’t pain at all. It’s something related to pain called nociception.
What We Know Now
We now understand that pain is a perception that your mind experiences. It is often associated with, but independent of tissue damage. It’s more appropriate to think of pain as a warning sign that your brain gives off to keep you safe. With this new understanding, we’ve realized pain and injury are not synonymous. You can have pain without injury, and injury without pain.
Normally, damaged tissue sends a signal to the brain called nociception. The brain usually recognizes this signal, causing you to feel pain. For a number of reasons, your brain can mix up the signals coming to it, causing you to perceive pain in the absence of injury. When this happens, factors such as excessive environmental or psychological stress might be what is causing the pain. Yes, high levels of stress can cause physical pain.
It’s also been proven that no two human brains are identical. Not even in identical twins. This means each person might perceive a sharp, burning, stabbing, or pricking pain differently than the person next to them. We use pain management strategies that incorporate this idea when treating our patients, and use it as motivation to consider every patient’s case of pain as unique.
If this topic interests you, be sure to tune in for the next installment of our Pain series. We will continue to look at pain from many different perspectives, providing further insight into how we think about and manage our patient’s pain.
Physical Therapists are the specialists in safely preparing your body for new levels of movement, as well as getting to the bottom of any pain that has developed along the way.