Many people living with chronic pain have been told that there pain isn’t as bad as they say it is. Or sometimes they are told that their pain is “all in your head.” Fortunately, the pain management community is finally starting to learn that chronic pain is much more than just physiological symptoms. Sometimes the pain system gets turned on but doesn’t turn off after the trigger or generator is no longer present.
Professor MacDonald Christie, director of basic research at the Pain Management Research Institute at the University of Sydney, says in the past five or six years it has “become increasingly clear that the transmission of pain signals from the spinal cord up through the parabrachial nucleus and into emotional control systems is a very important component of pain.” Pain is not simply a sensation but is both a sensory and an emotional experience.
What travels through the nerves when you get an injury is not pain, it is really just activity in nerves. It’s called ‘nociception: activity in the nervous system, which signals tissue damage. It’s only when the signal gets to the brain, and the brain synthesises (interprets) it and incorporates a number of other inputs, that it becomes the experience we call pain.
To keep it simple I usually tell my patients that the signal coming from the trigger area travels up to our brain and then the brain assigns a meaning to that signal. The signal can manifest as “ouch this hurts” or pain; or it can come out “this is horrible awful and terrible” or suffering. That is why an effective pain management plan needs to include not only interventions for the physical components of the pain but also to help people manage the psychological/emotional interpretations of pain.
I believe that it is crucial for someone living with chronic pain to learn as much about their pain as possible; especially the psychological component of their pain. If you would like to learn more about this please go to our website at www.addiction-free.com and read my article The Psychological Component of Pain.