Understanding Pain | Total Performance Physical Therapy

Understanding Pain

June 6, 2019

The #1 reason that patients seek help from a Physical Therapist is because they are in pain. In the ideal world, pain is a good thing. It tells our bodies that something dangerous has occurred, and immediately draws our attention to that area. Unfortunately though, sometimes the pain that we feel in a certain part of our body does not mean that something dangerous is occurring. Prolonged pain often leads to increased fear and anxiety, increased healthcare costs, and longer time away from work and other life activities. Understanding why you have pain can help to create the best plan to fix it!

Types of Pain

The International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP) defines pain as “an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage.” When we break this definition down, we can see that there are 2 types of pain: 1 in which true tissue damage has occurred, and 1 in which there may OR may not be true damage. The first scenario encompasses injuries from the moment they happen until ~3 months. This is called “acute pain” and is often associated with neck or back injuries, broken bones, or torn ligaments. Signals travel from the injured body part to our brains and tell us there has been damage. Our brain processes this information and then sends a signal back out to our body telling it to begin feeling pain. Typically when these things occur, we are often encouraged to seek proper medical attention, keep moving, and will soon resume normal life and work activity. When pain persists longer than 3 months, it is commonly called “chronic pain” and can happen for many different reasons. Chronic pain can occur when the damage to a certain body part is healed, but our brain continues to send out pain signals to the specific or surrounding area.

Contributing Factors to Prolonged Pain

Pain that lasts for multiple months or years is a multifactorial problem. It may be helpful to think of your pain as a volume dial. All of the unnecessary pain signals that your brain is continuing to send out to your body cause the systems “volume” (or sensitivity to further signals of pain) to increase. Additional factors such as lifestyle habits (smoking, alcohol), nutritional habits, fear of movement, stress/ anxiety about pain or in other general areas of life, and limited activity levels all further increase the overall volume of the system. Working to understand areas of your life that may be turning up this volume is a crucial step in learning how to lower the volume, and decrease the overall pain sensitivity of the system.

 

Play it Safe! 

As mentioned before, the time lines for acute & chronic pain are not always perfect. It is important to rule out the possibility of true tissue damage or potentially serious conditions if you have persistent pain. Although seeking care from your primary care provider is the best way to rule out any potential red flags, physical therapy is a great next step to put an end to your pain!  Call Total Performance Physical Therapy today to end your pain!