Explaining Pain and Why Every Body Hurts ... Sometimes (Part 1)

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(Image: https://cdn.vortala.com/childsites/uploads/2629/files/dt_150319_chronic_pain_headache_migraine_800x600.jpg/accessed 10th January 2019)

Why Do We Experience Pain?

Although pain is typically an uncomfortable and undesirable sensation, it’s also an essential element of our lives. Pain let’s us know when we should avoid something that can cause us physical harm, like touching a hot stove; it notifies us when the body is experiencing harm.

This aligns with the theory that there are pain receptors (nerve endings called nociceptors) throughout our body and when they come into contact with a stimuli (for example a sharp object, a hot surface, or chemicals found after inflammation) that can cause damage, a signal is sent through the spinal cord and to the brain, manifesting as pain. From here, a response to remove the body from harm is then sent back by the brain to the stimulated area.

Although, this may appear as an elegant solution by the brain for preventing harm, recent development in understanding the processes of pain has shown that this only scratches the surface, and that pain is a complex process that involves physical, psychological, emotional and social factors. The complexity of pain is particularly evident when dealing with chronic pain.

The Complexity and Impact of Chronic Pain

Chronic Pain is defined as pain that lasts beyond the expected recovery time (typically more than 3 months) for a certain injury, surgery or other condition. Common conditions where chronic pain is experienced include diabetes, osteperosis, migraines, and perhaps most prevalently, back pain.

Chronic pain can last from a few months to years on end, despite any injury having healed and there no longer being any physical harm being caused. 1 in 5 Australians live with chronic pain and as one of the leading causes of disability, chronic pain contributes an economic cost of $34.4 billion per annum.

Chronic pain commonly develops subsequent to untreated or poorly treated acute injuries, although the direct cause of chronic pain can be difficult to isolate, as other factors such as beliefs about pain, environmental and psychological factors all contribute. This makes pain, and the experience of pain extremely subjective, further supporting its complexity to manage.

Understanding Chronic Pain – The Mature Organism Model

Many theories have been proposed to assist in understanding pain mechanisms, although there is little doubt that there is more to be revealed in the future. A proposed model by Louis Gifford known as the Mature Organism Model (below) outlines the relationship between the brain, the body’s tissue and the external environment in eliciting a pain response.

The Mature Organism Model Physiotherapy emu plains emu heights blue mountains