Understand your Pain is the first step to a Pain Free Life

Pain, pain, go away! Come again some other day 

I’ve recently read the book Explain Pain by Butler, and it could not have been more life changing. As a health care provider, I deal with pain on a daily basis. Although this book is aimed at patients, or those experiencing pain, it still hit home for me as there was lots of information on education and coping strategies for pain. 

Since finishing the book, I can't help but talk about it at least once a day. I’ve discussed the book and many of its' interesting theories with patients over the past few weeks, and every time, it turns into a conversation at least 15 minutes long. Everyone seems to be very interested, and at first I was surprised, however, the more I think about it, the more it makes sense. 

EVERYONE EXPERIENCES PAIN and at times, pain seems so complicated. Therefore, when pain is simplified into terms that are easy to understand, we jump all over it. 

I decided to break down and summarize some of the points I found most important in this book, and share them with you all! 

What is pain?

  • Pain is when your body alerts your brain of actual or potential tissue damage 
  • Pain is your brains interpretation of a current situation or stimuli
  • Pain is dependent on the actual injury/threat as well as past experiences with pain 

More pain = More damage ??

  • FALSE. The amount of pain your experience does not always correlate with the amount of physical tissue damage (i.e. that paper cut that feels deadly, really does not cause very much physical damage at all).  

Understand pain so that we don't fear it 

  • Gone are the days where we use the expression "No pain, No Gain". This is especially true when it comes to chronic pain. (Chronic pain: Pain lasting long than the physical tissue damage). At this point, your brain is interpreting a dangerous situation that is not actually true. Too much pain will cause the brain to overreact in a protective manner, causing even more pain. 
  • "Let pain be your guide" is sometimes too conservative. In the case of chronic pain, it will take slow but steady increases in activity to "trick" your brain and increase your tolerance for activity. If we always stop at the initial onset of pain, we will never be able to increase our activity. 

People are often afraid to move as they associate pain with damage, which is not usually the case. Once the acute period is over (usually the first 6 weeks depending on the injury), lingering pain may be simply from your brain misfiring and thinking its protecting you.

You brain has a higher sensitivity to that area of the body due to previous trauma or pain and is signalling you to stop before the damage actually happens. This system is great in the beginning, however, once you are past the initial stages, this system if simply overprotective and needs to be recalibrate. Lingering pain in this stage is either your brain still adjusting and being overprotective or pain/discomfort from the lack of movement. 

Movement is often what you need and the expression (as goofy as it may sounds) “Motion is Lotion” could not be more accurate. Reintroducing movement is a great way to show your brain that you are able to move and tolerate activity without the brain sending warning signals in the form of pain. 

Getting back to pain free activity may be a challenge. You must slowly increase your level of activity. If pain usually starts with walking any duration longer than 4 minutes, this may mean walking 5 minutes one day, 5 1/2 minutes the next and so on. You need to show your brain that it is okay to move that area of your body. 

If you take one piece of advice from this post, please let it be ... 

“If you understand your pain and know that it won’t harm you, then there will be minimal stress responses” 

Courtney Postma