Pain can be your friend
- Pain is complex. Everything that’s happening around you will influence your experience of pain. You can have tissue damage and notice no pain, and you can have no injury at all and be in great pain.
- Pain is not a measure of anything, it’s just an alarm-system. Pain is your brains way of letting you know that something might need your attention.
- Pain is there to stop you from hurting your self, or hurting your self more
- That’s why you should listen to pain – it’s not your enemy, it’s your friend trying to give you some good advice. You shouldn’t try to get rid of pain, because we need it. You should try to figure out what the pain is telling you, and do something about that.
Change the way we view pain
A lot of people see pain as an enemy they need to get rid of. Makes sense, since it’s uncomfortable and sometimes limiting. But we should change the way we look at pain, because it can actually be a friend. It’s not the pain you need to get rid of, what’s causing it is what needs to change.
That might sound obvious, but think about it. How many times have you taken pain medication, instead of adressing the real issue? Let’s say you have weekly regular headaches. Do you take medication so you can be rid of pain, and then don’t do anything else about it? Or do you figure out what in your lifestyle is causing the discomfort, and then make the necessary changes? If you have Osteoarthritis, do you take medication to get through the day, but never do any of the other recommended lifestyle changes to reduce discomfort and increase mobility?
People often want to do something about the pain. But masking it up with medication instead of figuring out what is wrong and adressing that, is like putting on noise cancelling headphones when a good friend is giving you advice.
What is pain?
“…an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with, or resembling that associated with, actual or potential tissue damage. Pain is always a personal experience that is influenced to varying degrees by biological, psychological and social factors” (European Pain federation)(1).
In other words; pain is something you feel in your body that could be caused by injury. But there could also be no injury, damage og disease present. Everything that happens in your life will affect how your pain feels to you.
An example of pain without any injury, is the worker who got a nail through his shoe. He was in great pain until healthcare professionals removed the shoe. They found that the nail hadn’t hit his foot, but had hit between his toes. The brain noticed potential tissue damage and alerted him about it, but there wasn’t really any injury.
An example of injury where the feeling of pain was influenced by the situation is the woman that was attacked. She managed to escape and came into the emergency room with a knife in the back of her neck. She didn’t know the knife was there. There was a bigger threat that she needed to handle first (the attack). Therefore, the brain chose not to alert her about the knife.
These examples are not to tell you that the discomfort is all in your head. It’s rather to show you that the feeling of pain can be influenced by many things. The amount of pain usually tells us very little about the degree of injury.
What is pain trying to tell us?
It’s an alarm system
Pain is a very effective alarm system. It’s the brains way of letting you know that something is going on, and you need to check it out. That way, you could potentially avoid further injury. That’ why it’s is your friend – it calls your attention to a potential issue. The brain is always on the lookout for the biggest threath in your surroundings. If it considers an issue to be a threath to you, your health or your survival, it will make sure you’re in pain.
Did you know that stress can cause pain? Read our article on stress here.
You could have a headache due to being overworked, due to your lifestyle or poor sleep. The headache is your brains way of telling you that something is out of balance, and that you might need to do something differently. What you’re currently doing isn’t good for your health.
Or let’s say you usually don’t do exercises or strengthening for your back. Then you do some heavy lifts like move furniture, putting the body under greater loads than it’s capasity. Your brain will let your know that you’re about to overload, and you get low back pain. If you keep loading that heavy, you will injure your self. It’s letting you know that you’re not strong enough.
Some people unfortunately have chronic pain without there being any tissue damage or real threath. Modern medicine hasn’t been able to explain all kinds of pain. Some chronic conditions are still much of a mystery. For those people, pain isn’t a friend. It’s an over sensitive alarmsystem that never turns off. The “danger” it wants to alert you about usually isn’t there – or at least we haven’t found the cause yet.
So what can you make of this?
The message we want you to recieve from this, is that when you’re in pain, you should listen. Your body and your brain is trying to communicate with you to let you know that something might not be ok, or something is out of balance. Pain isn’t your enemy, it’s your cue to do something differently. Listening can save you an injury or bigger tissue damage. There’s nothing wrong with taking medication to get through the day. But you should at the same time try to figure out exactly what it is your brain is trying to tell you, and make the necessary changes to your lifestyle, habits or exercise. Instead of regarding pain as an enemy, try looking at it as a helpful guide.
- European Pain Federation (w.o.y) What’s the definition of pain? From: https://europeanpainfederation.eu/what-is-pain/