Understanding Pain

Do you remember going to the doctor’s as a child and dreading those visits because you just “knew” the nurse would be giving you some type of shot? Do you remember that one time you were distracted by someone else in the room while the nurse gave you the needle, and you hardly felt the needle go in? Most of us are familiar with this, either because we went through it, or our children did. Did the pain magically go away because you were distracted? Neuroscience is now showing the world that pain goes beyond the physical sensations, and is more bio-psychological than even they thought. That old saying, “It is all in your head”, is truer than anyone ever realized.

  • Different Types of Pain

Tissue-damage pain and the pain from a broken heart are both as real and as intense as they can be. The only difference is the origin of the pain, and the ways that neurons interpret this pain.

Dr. Edwin S Shneidman PhD, the founder of the American Association of Suicidology, says that all pain is the result of need. Because pain is a combination of psychological needs and physiological processes, it is often hard to determine exactly where the pain is coming from. Love, freedom, and achievement are three needs your pain may be trying to fill. There is also the pain of embarrassment, shame and harm to others that may need healing.

There is no way to measure the extent of any one person’s pain. The only way to do so is to watch a patient react to pain and hear what they have to say about what they feel. Humans are all different, and our tolerance to pain depends a lot on what our personal psychological needs are. Someone might have a financial need, while someone else has an emotional need. Each will feel pain in ways unique to only them. This is why we all feel pain at different levels.

As children we learn to deal with pain in our own way. It is possible to experience physical pain that is reinforced by negative emotions. This level of pain will bring to adulthood two different types of sensitivities to pain.

  • Peripheral Sensitization

When you cut yourself you experience peripheral sensitization. This is due to the inflammation or damage that you do to your tissues. During this pain process there is a change in your transduction proteins. These proteins carry messages that affect your body’s sensory neuron receptors, (your nociceptors.) Burning your finger results in electrical signals being carried through your nervous system and up to your brain through these proteins.

  • Central Sensitization

This type of pain happens without any physical damage to your tissues or body. Usually what happens is you get injured and suffer from the pain of the injury. Over time, the neurons in your central nervous system become overstimulated. The end result is that you end up feeling the pain of that injury long after you are healed; this pain stimulus is what leads to chronic pain.

  • The Mind-Body Connection

People with Fibromyalgia have nothing physiologically wrong, but the pain they suffer is real. This is directly related to central sensitization. Dr. Brannon Frank, the former President of the Austin Pain Society, has stated that most of his patients with complaints of chronic pain have some type of life story that involves stress.

Everyone from your average Joe to professional athletes can tell just when and how they were hurt. People who suffer from Fibromyalgia and other conditions that cause chronic pain cannot pinpoint anything specific. They can, however, tell stories about great emotional traumas they have suffered throughout their lives. Whether abuse, divorce, loss of a loved one, or plain old depression, each harbors deep emotional pain.

This example shows how pain can manifest in the mind of the beholder. Think about this the next time you find yourself in pain: Does your pain originate from a physical or an emotional source? Sometimes the answers are not as obvious as we would like them to be, but once you know what to look for it becomes easier to spot the differences in your pain. How you react to this pain is what makes all the difference in the world. It may be real, and it just might be… all in your head.

Source: Learning Mind 

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