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About Pain

What is Pain?

The International Association for the Study of Pain found that pain is “an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with, or resembling that associated with, actual or potential tissue damage.” Pain is highly personal and subjective. Unlike a fever, where using a thermometer can confirm the temperature, there is no objective means of measuring the level of pain a person may be experiencing.

How we Feel Pain?

Have you ever wondered why you feel pain? Usually, pain is your body’s way of sounding an alarm. It tells you that something is not quite right. Nerve cells also referred to as ‘neurons’ transmit signals to your brain that are sent by your five senses. Some neuros, identified as ‘nociceptors’, are dedicated to the transmission of pain signals. These pain neurons are present all over your body, in your skin and tissues. When these neurons are stimulated, they send electrical and chemical signals through the nerves inside your spinal cord and up into your brain which then translates these signals as pain.

Different Types of Pain

Everyone has experienced pain at one time or another. The pain may have been acute, such as with a needle prick or a cut, or it may be chronic caused by a persistent pain, such as arthritis.

Acute Pain

Acute pain is referred to as ‘normal’ or ‘nociceptive’. It’s the kind of pay you feel when your nerve endings send messages that come from injuries to your body. Everyone has felt acute pain at one time in their lives. It’s the kind of pain you feel when pricked with a needle for a blood test or when spraining your ankle. This type of pain is temporary; it only lasts a few minutes to a few weeks. Acute pain usually goes away with healing and is often easy to treat. It is often treated with medication, physical components (heat, cold, rest) or psychological strategies (distractions, deep breathing.)

Acute pain is useful because it prevents further injury. Acute pain alerts you to imminent or real damages. For example, if you are walking in bare feet on a piece of glass, your brain will quickly recognise pain and tell you to lift your foot. You will also know that you need medical care. This is how acute pain can help protect you from dangerous or harmful situations.

Chronic Pain

Chronic pain is pain that lasts for at least three months. Chronic pain also any recurrent pain that presents at least three times over a three month period. Chronic pain may be:

  • Persistent pain: ongoing pain.
  • Recurrent: frequent episodes of pain, such as headaches.

Unlike acute pain, chronic pain has not useful objective; it’s a prolonged and abnormal response to injury. Consider it your body’s alarm malfunctioning, sending danger signals without a valid reason. Chronic pain can be related to diseases such as arthritis and cancer, or it may simply occur without a known reason (idiopathic pain). The difference with acute pain is that chronic pain has no real purpose except to remind the person that their disease is ongoing and requires permanent treatment. It needs to be meticulously managed to improve the body’s overall function. It’s much more difficult to treat then acute pain and requires a multimodal approach. This type of approach uses a combination of medications as well as physiotherapy and psychotherapy. There are teams of professionals specialised in chronic pain that use an interdisciplinary approach (medication, nursing care, physiotherapy, psychology, etc.) to treat pain. There are two types of chronic pain: nociceptive pain and neuropathic pain.

Transforming Pain

Your pain may be transformed by keeping pain signals from reaching your brain. These pain signals may be reduces or blocked as they travel along the pathways to your brain. It may be impossible to eliminate all of the pain caused by your chronic pain issue. However there are things that can be done to reduce the pain.

Your pain may be transformed by using any or all of the following:

  • Pharmacological strategies or pain killers;
  • Physical methods such as heat, cold, massage and exercise;
  • Psychological strategies such as relaxation, distraction (engaging in pleasant activities) and altering the way you think.
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