Why pain does not mean your body is damaged

FB Aug 2021 (5)

Pain is an unpleasant experience but also essential and an effective way to protect your body from danger. So, does this mean pain indicates that there must be damage to the body brought on by trauma or an illness? In the case of acute pain, yes, and we know that the body responds to an injury trigger with pain in order to protect it, then allows the body to go through a healing process over a few days or weeks.

Here, Gaynor Hughes, Pain Management Specialist at Our Health Hub, discusses why suffering from bodily pain doesn’t mean it’s damaged:

“Everyone’s experience is different and to each individual pain is real. However, with acute pain, most people recover and can get back to their normal daily living. For the few, this isn’t the case, and they start to journey down the road of persistent pain. It feels as though the trigger of the pain response from that initial acute phase hasn’t ‘turned off’. The brain for some reason has concluded that you are still under threat from danger and need protection, but we need to find out why the brain has come to that conclusion. Pain relies on context and depends on the perceived cause. A lack of knowledge or understanding of what is happening with our bodies can add to fear and increase input with the experience of pain. This makes it difficult to think, feel or focus on anything else and what is needed is to focus on the brain.

“The brain is remarkable and complex, and it is the brain that makes the final decision on whether it feels there is still a threat and puts signals out to protect you. There are many explanations as to why the brain concludes that there is still a threat and many of them involve changes in the way the trigger system itself works. This means there is the involvement of the brain, spinal cord and nervous system even when the initial acute injury has resolved and healed. As a result of this continuous involvement, thoughts and beliefs also become more involved contributing to the problem. The brain adapts to become better at producing pain sensations causing more anxiety and restrictions.”

Gaynor says that the road to recovery is possible with a better understanding of your pain and identifying the threats and triggers.

“Remember that your brain wants to protect you from things it concludes are dangerous and when in persistent pain, these danger signals are ignited to maintain that pain even when there is no reason to,” she adds, “Once you put yourself in control, you will need to identify your threats that could be contributing to the persistent pain. You may require help to do this to gain knowledge of your pain and better understanding. We can’t rule out the fear of pain and this can be just as disabling as the pain itself but is eased with an improved understanding of what is causing your pain.

“Everybody has different coping strategies, and it is finding which one you can work with that enables you to remain in control. In many ways, you need to have a relationship with your pain so that you can understand the effect it has on your activity levels. With help you can learn to respect your persistent pain, not to avoid, beat it or even fear it but to learn to control and plan your road to recovery. It takes time to adjust and retrain your brain but at least you can be reassured that your body isn’t damaged.”