Pain is an unpleasant physical sensation or experience in the body. The pain signal is transmitted via the nervous system from the site of pain to the spinal cord and onwards the brain. Pain is subjective which means that everyone’s experience of pain is different. Two people with the same injury, such as an ankle sprain, can have a very different pain experience. This is because pain is complex; how we perceive pain involves an interaction between our mind and our body.
This interaction is influenced by many factors, including sensitivity of our nervous system, genetics, culture, thoughts, previous pain experiences, stress and what was happening in our lives when the pain started.
Acute pain is usually short-term. It tends to be more associated with damage or injury to the body, and will usually resolve after the injury heals. The acute onset of pain is very important for the protection of our bodies and works like an alarm system to warn us about danger so that we can take appropriate action to protect ourselves. For example, if you touch something hot you will experience pain so that your body knows to pull your hand back from that hot object.
Chronic pain is pain that lasts for more than three months, or in many cases, beyond the expected healing time. Chronic pain is often less to do with an injury to our body and more to do with what is happening in our nervous system. A great explanation for this is that it’s like the alarm has been left on and somebody has turned the volume up. This usually occurs when our nervous system has become sensitised and overactive; meaning that we continue to feel the pain even without any ongoing tissue damage.
So why should osteopath’s and their client’s care about pain and the differences between different pain experiences?
As osteopath’s we need to consider everything that a person is going through (and/or has previously been through) when we are formulating our treatment plan. This wholistic approach allows us to ensure we educate our clients about all of the factors that might be contributing to their presenting complaint. If someone is experiencing chronic pain, we want to ensure they have the knowledge to move forward with their management plan.
If you’d like to know more, head to the National Pain Week 2019 website by clicking here.