Things you should know about pain

1. Pain is output from the brain. While we used to believe that pain originated within the tissues of our body, we now understand that pain does not exist until the brain determines it does. The brain uses pain to advise you of tissue that it suspects may be in danger. This process acts as a means of communication between the brain and the tissues of the body, to serve as a defense against possible injury or disease.

2. The degree of injury does not always equal the degree of pain. Research has demonstrated that we all experience pain in individual ways. While some of us experience major injuries with little pain, others experience minor injuries with a lot of pain (think of a paper cut).

3. Despite what diagnostic imaging (MRIs, x-rays, CT scans) shows us, the finding may not be the cause of your pain. A study performed on individuals 60 years or older who had no symptoms of low back pain found that 36% had a herniated disc, 21% had spinal stenosis, and more than 90% had a degenerated or bulging disc, upon diagnostic imaging.

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4. Psychological factors, such as depression and anxiety, can make your pain worse. Pain can be influenced by many different factors, such as psychological conditions. A recent study in the Journal of Pain showed that psychological variables that existed prior to a total knee replacement were related to a patient's experience of long-term pain following the operation.

5. Your social environment may influence your perception of pain. Many patients state their pain increases when they are at work or in a stressful situation. Pain messages can be generated when an individual is in an environment or situation that the brain interprets as unsafe. It is a fundamental form of self-protection.

6. Understanding pain through education may reduce your need for care. A large study conducted with military personnel demonstrated that those who were given a 45-minute educational session about pain sought care for low back pain less than their counterparts.

Ask your physical therapist about safer ways to manage pain!

Adapted from article by Joseph Brence, PT, DPT, FAAOMPT, COMT, DAC