The Science of Pain

The Science of Pain

By Reid McDuffie, DPT

People experience pain all the time. Some even say it is a part of the human experience. Most people are familiar with the most common type of pain- acute pain. Acute pain typically comes from an injury, such as stubbing your toe or breaking a bone. Acute pain typically goes away as the body heals and people are able to move on with their lives, good as new. But what happens when that pain doesn’t go away?

When pain overstays it’s welcome, it can often be referred to as ‘chronic pain’. Chronic pain can continue for years after the initial injury or surgery occurred. What is unusual about chronic pain is that the body is able to heal itself from almost anything in about 3-6 months. So why are people spending several years or more in pain despite the fact that the body has healed?

The answer isn’t that simple. Several factors contribute to our pain experience beyond physical damage to our bodies. Here are a few factors that may be contributing to your pain.

  • Sleep- About 1 in 4 people with chronic pain report less than optimal sleep due to the pain waking them up, or not being able to sleep at all. This can make the problem worse because the brain can become more sensitive to pain when it doesn’t get proper sleep, creating a viscous cycle of painful, sleepless nights.
  • Stress- Being in pain can cause stress. Pain can make it harder to focus on work, children, school and can create havoc in your daily life as you search for relief. But can stress cause pain? The answer may be yes. Studies show that increased stress can trigger inflammation within the body, worsening painful conditions.
  • Nutrition- Sometimes it can be difficult to eat healthy, fresh foods like we should. Unfortunately, poor diet choices can worsen our pain. Being overweight can put an extra load on our joints, leading to arthritis and other painful conditions. Diets high in sugar and alcohol can contribute to inflammation within the body and further worsen pain.

So what can I do to lessen my pain? By addressing all of the factors that may be contributing to your pain, instead of thinking a broken bone or pinched nerve is the only reason you hurt, you can see pain for what it really is and begin to truly heal. The answer to solving your pain may come from a dietitian, psychologist, or psychical therapist instead surgeon or a pharmacist!