If you’ve lived long enough, you’ve experienced pain. Whether it’s the result of just being stabbed in your toe or it’s the almost unbearable pain of cancer, you know that pain is something you want to avoid. In its simplest form, pain is a biological signal indicating that the body has suffered damage, but pain can be much more complex than that.
The most common type of pain is acute. This type of pain can be caused by an injury or disease and lasts only as long as the condition lasts. Once healed, the injury no longer signals through pain that there is a condition that needs attention. In most cases, acute pain can be uncomfortable, but it is not a serious health concern in itself.
On the other hand, chronic pain is pain that persists for six months or more and has no obvious cause. In many cases, chronic pain may begin as acute pain related to an injury or disease, but may continue long after the underlying health condition has resolved. The most common types of chronic pain are
- lower back pain
- multiple sclerosis
Basic understanding of pain
You’ve experienced pain your entire life, but you probably don’t understand the basic, biological mechanism that causes it. This may seem like a simple signal from the pain receptor to your brain, but there is a lot more complexity involved.
The pain is usually triggered by stimulation of certain nerves. The most common stimuli include cuts or impacts, but can also result from joint pain, headaches or muscle injuries. These peripheral nerve cells generate a pain impulse using electrical currents and chemical interactions. The exact nature of the impulse depends on the type of stimuli.
This pain impulse is transmitted to the nerves in the spinal cord. The spinal cord acts like a sorting center, preferring certain impulses such as severe irritation and less urgent sensations to be transferred more slowly to the brain.
Once the pain impulse reaches the brain, it is routed once again, this time to the thalamus. The thalamus interprets the sensation and transmits it to the appropriate location in the brain. Signals can be sent to the frontal cortex for cognitive responses, the limbic system for emotional responses, or the somatosensory cortex for processing physical sensations. Your brain then prepares a response and then sends new impulses back to the injured area. This may involve increasing blood flow, triggering an immune system response, or moving a damaged organ. In many circumstances, your involuntary reactions may precede your voluntary responses.
how to replace pain
Although you may think that you feel pain immediately, the truth is that there is an involved journey to any pain sensation. Along this pathway, your pain impulse can be changed in a number of ways. For example, pain sensation can be modulated in the dorsal horn of the spinal cord, which serves as a gateway for nerve impulses.
There is a theory about pain that suggests that pain impulses must pass through gates. The gate theory states that the pain at these gates can be increased, decreased, or blocked. A common example of this mechanism in action is the absence of pain during combat or physical activity; The central nervous system ignores pain sensations in order to focus on high priority neural activity.
chronic pain problem
In most people, pain is a relatively rare occurrence and is therefore remedied properly. You experience an injury, which is followed by an intense burst of pain that gradually fades as the damaged tissue heals. If the tissue remains damaged, the pain may continue, and if it persists for more than six months, it is classified as chronic pain.
Unlike acute pain that tends to disappear as illness or injury resolves, chronic pain can persist for a long time. In some cases, this dull pain may even intensify over time. Even more problematic is that many chronic pain patients have no identifiable cause for their pain symptoms.
There are several possible causes of chronic pain that are currently under investigation, including:
Pain receptors may be highly sensitive to stimuli
Neural networks can be reorganized
Central nervous system may fail to control pain impulses
Inflammation may over-stimulate pain receptors
Nerve injury can cause dysfunction
That’s why chronic pain can be extremely difficult to treat. Depending on the individual, chronic pain can be processed in many different ways. In some people, pain impulses trigger a large response in the emotional processing center of the brain called the limbic system. This can induce stress, anxiety and depression which can make the pain symptoms more powerful.
In many circumstances, it is not only important to treat the underlying physical problem and primary pain symptoms, but patients with chronic chronic pain also commonly associate their pain with secondary emotional issues that also require resolution. That’s why many pain specialists recommend that patients with chronic pain also attend psychotherapy.
More physicians are encouraging their chronic pain patients to use mindful meditation or biofeedback. Mindful meditation enables practitioners to embrace all the sensations that the body deals with, including pain. Not only does it help patients control pain symptoms, but it also relieves stress and depression associated with chronic pain. Biofeedback technology also empowers patients to manage their responses to pain through pulse monitors or functional MRI.
There are many strategies to manage chronic pain, but for most patients, it usually involves several techniques at once.
- regular exercise
- special diet
- conscious attention
- Elimination of harmful habits like smoking and drinking
- getting to a healthy weight
- biofeedback technology
- removing sources of stress
- participation in a support group
- pain medications
- corrective surgery
- Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) or commercial versions such as Quell versions
- physical therapy
It can be difficult to determine which chronic pain treatment is effective for you, so you should maintain a pain journal when you try new treatments. You should also do this in close consultation with a doctor or pain relief specialist.
Article written by: Dr. Robert Moghim – CEO/Founder Colorado Pain Care
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