The way we think about pain has changed in a big way

As a physiotherapist, I work with people who are in pain every day. I see people from all walks of life and age groups that are affected by chronic pain, which is a state in which pain has lingered longer than it should — many weeks, months, or even years. According to results from the 2007/2008 Canadian Community Health Survey, about 1 in 10 Canadians aged 12 to 44–9% of males and 12% of females, an estimated 1.5 million people — experienced chronic pain (http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/82-003-x/2010004/article/11389-eng.htm). When a person feels pain, it affects their mood, their work, and their activities. This can have major compounding effects on a person’s lifelong productivity, happiness, and well-being.

Years ago, the treatment for pain was mainly focused on the body part or region that was thought to have not “healed” properly. Treatments would consist of ultrasound to remove inflammation, massage to break up scar tissue, and advice to rest and allow the area to heal correctly. While the logic was sound, it turns out that pain is affected by many other factors and not just the area that has been injured.

Today, we have a different view about the phenomenon of pain and the factors that influence it. There are many more treatment options, which include the traditional physical therapy approaches but may also include meditation, cognitive behavioural therapy, and specific education on how pain works.

If you are intrested in learning more about this, I recommend checking out the website retrainpain.org as a starting place. They have a great slideshow that explains some of the advances that have been made in the pain science field.

Here are some interesting quotes about pain:

“Phantom limb pain is the experience of pain in a body part that does not exist. Seventy percent of people who lose a limb experience phantom limb. It’s not all legs and arms either. Phantom breasts, penises and tongues have been reported. We believe that all pain sufferers could benefit from knowing more about phantom pain.”

Lorimer Moseley, Explain Pain

“Your nervous system produces pain-killing chemicals. These chemicals are much more powerful than the danger chemicals coming from your body. They are also more powerful than any pain medications — without the unpleasant side effects. You can stimulate your nervous system to release these chemicals.”

Neil Pearson, Understanding Pain

“Your brain plays a major role in controlling your pain. How you are feeling or what you are thinking about your pain has a direct impact on what happens to the pain signal in the spinal cord, and thus has a huge effect on how much pain you feel.”

Charles Argoff, Defeat Chronic Pain

And one of my favourite images: