Understanding Pain

Pain is one of the body’s most important communication tool. It is one of the ways the body tells you something is wrong, and you need to act on it.  Whatever is the cause of the pain it is usually an unpleasant and emotional experience for people. It can be steady, throbbing, or described in many other ways and sometimes, it’s just a nuisance, like a mild headache. Other times it can be debilitating. It leads people to act and has been important in humans’ ability to evolve and survive. It is possible to have pain without tissue damage or disease and it’s also possible to have tissue damage without pain. Even if there is tissue damage, this doesn’t always seem to match with the amount of pain someone is feeling. The perceived pain isn’t so much in the tissues, but in the pain system. Research has shown that the pain system gives the experience of pain in response to a perceived threat. Pain is not in the part that is ‘hurting’ but is ‘produced’ by the pain system. The pain system comprises of the brain, nerve and spinal cord. The brain processes a huge amount of information and weighs up lots of different things including any potential tissue damage messages, thoughts, feelings and previous experiences. If the brain perceives a threat, it gives the experience of pain. And this in turn creates a very personal experience of pain, which is different for each person.


Pain can bring about symptoms, like nausea, dizziness, weakness or drowsiness. It can cause emotional effects like anger, depression, mood swings or irritability. Perhaps most significantly, it can change your lifestyle and impact your job, relationships and independence. Pain sensations can feel like a dull ache, throbbing, burning, shooting, stinging, shooting, stabbing, pinching and stiffness.

Types of pain

Pain is the body’s warning system when you are sick or injured. There are several ways to categorize pain. Some are Classify according to duration (acute pain and chronic pain).

Acute pain

 Acute pain is a reaction to a noxious stimulus.  Acute pain typically comes on suddenly and has a limited duration. It’s frequently caused by damage to tissue such as bone, muscle, or organs, and the onset is often accompanied by emotional distress. Acute pain is generally simple to treat and tends to fade away as you begin to feel better. Common causes include broken bones, dental works and cuts.

Chronic pain

Chronic is pain that persists after the body should/ or have healed, usually about three months. This pain may not be warning you of damage occurring in the body so there is no longer a direct link between pain and harm being caused by the (preceding) injury or disease. It is different to acute pain as it is caused by the pain system ‘not resetting itself back to normal’ after an injury or persisting when there is no obvious injury or disease. The fact that chronic pain is ongoing and, in some cases, almost constant, it makes a person who has it to be more susceptible to psychological consequences such as depression and at the same time psychological distress can increase the pain.

How to manage pain

  • Exercise:  Gentle exercise should be a central part of treatment plan. Exercise keeps stiff joints lubricated and muscles strong. It’s good for mental health and helps avoid gaining excess weight.
  • Try improving diet: Start by incorporating foods like vegetables, nuts and healthy oils into your diet, and be sure to drink plenty of water. You should also consider reducing alcohol intake. High consumption of alcohol affect sleeping habit.   
  • Don’t overdo it: Learn to break down tasks in smaller bits and take time to do it. Avoid overdoing it on days when your pain seems to have eased.
  • Learn relaxation techniques: Techniques include progressive muscle relaxation, mindfulness, diaphragmatic breathing, guided imagery, yoga, tai chi and qi gong. “There isn’t a secret formula or one ‘right’ or ‘best’ relaxation technique. Learning a relaxation technique to calm the body down can combat the stress and be used as needed for self-management. 
  • Goal setting:  Set goals that are realistic, obtainable, precise and measurable. Goal setting won’t eliminate your pain, but it can help you better manage it and doing that will help you lead a more productive life.

When to seek help

Pain is a complex issue and there is no easy answer to it. Currently, the best way to treat the pain is to manage the symptoms. Whenever pain lasts longer than reasonably expected, it’s crucial to treat it to keep it from worsening into chronic pain, for example a small cut pain would not cause pain after a month, if it does, you should consult a physician for proper diagnosis.  You can also consult a physiotherapist for management of the condition causing the pain. A therapist will assess your issue, identify the cause and design a treatment plan that will address the pain.

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