Hey guys! Gina the Pain nerd here – Understanding your pain is super important and I wanted to ask you all a few simple questions to get you all thinking and also understanding your pain or someone you love is actually the first step in getting rid of it.
So… True or False?
1.There are pain receptors in your nervous system.
2. Pain only occurs when you are injured.
3. Our nervous system adapts in response to ongoing ‘danger’ signals.
4. Pain experiences are not influenced by your family and context.
5. Chronic pain means that there is ongoing tissue damage.
Are there pain receptors in your nervous system?
Alrighty – so there actually aren’t any ‘pain’ receptors in your nervous system. This is a classic misconception and unfortunately a lot of health professionals are still under the illusion that we have receptors whose job is to report “pain”.
What they are likely referring to are sensory neurons called nociceptors – these are particular neurons really good at sensing and reporting thermal, chemical or mechanical changes in lots of different tissues. Their job is to report on potentially dangerous stimulus and inputs and it is the brains job to interpret them and ultimately create a painful experience.
For example – you touch a hot stove, and your brain lets you know that is potentially dangerous, the brain creates pain and then you remove your hand from the stove. It’s a pretty clever alarm system – but unfortunately sometimes the alarm system breaks and we end up feeling more pain then appropriate.
Can pain occur when you are not injured?
I’m about to bust open another classic myth about pain. Pain can absolutely occur even when you are not injured. So I’m going to tell you a story to demonstrate this point – my favourite pain story of all time… There was a carpenter working on a construction site he fell off his high stoop and landed heavily on his foot.
He looks down and sees a massive nail poking up through his boot with the pointy bit just under where his steel cap ends. He immediately drops to the floor, wailing in pain, they call the ambos, who drug him up with morphine but no amount of pain medication is touching his pain. The doctors first get an X-ray to assess the damage – before they try to figure out how they will make this guy feel better.
They take the X-ray result to the carpenter with a massive smile on their face, almost on the verge of laughter – while the carpenter is thinking to himself, why are these guys laughing at me, I have a massive nail shooting through my foot?? The doctors show him the X-ray and point out that the nail actually went in between his toes and didn’t touch his foot at all. So in answer to the question, the brain can create a pain experience without any damage to your tissues. And this all depends on it’s perception of incoming dangerous information.
True or false - Our nervous system adapts in response to ongoing ‘danger’ signals.
If you said YES you are absolutely right! I’m sure some of you have heard of sensitisation – and this process can happen in the periphery of our body or centrally through our nervous system like in our brain and spinal cord. We experience sensitisation normally to protect us (like when we stub our toe it will become more sensitive to touch so we know to take special care of it until it heals), but unfortunately sometimes this sensitisation goes on for longer than it needs to.
This means that even after a damaged tissue has healed, the area will remain sensitised. This sensitisation will make us move in ways that are overprotective and no longer necessary – and this can lead to a number of secondary problems. For e.g. avoiding certain movements, feeling anxious and nervous about certain activities, Once central sensitisation has happened (through adaptations of our nervous system) we can feel pain in areas far away from the initially damaged area.
MYTH OR FACT? Chronic pain means there is ongoing tissue damage
This is a huge one! And can be really liberating for those of you who’ve had pain hanging around for longer than 3 months… The answer is False! Chronic pain definitely doesn’t mean that there is ongoing tissue damage. Our bodies are actually really amazing at healing – most tissue damage is sorted in 6 weeks and definitely by 12 weeks.
The reason we still feel pain after 12 weeks has much more to do with the brain (what it’s learnt, what it’s expecting, nervous system adaptations and all the other inputs coming in) rather then the local site of injury. This basically means that after the 12 week mark your job and our job is to help your body move in a way that the brain doesn’t perceive as problematic, slowly slowly and building up gradually until you are back doing everything you used to!
So there you have it! How did you do on the quiz. Pain is a complex beast but simply understanding pain a little more is actually the first step in getting rid of it. If you feel you may have an element of sensitisation or want to understand your pain in more detail shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or if you want to come in and make an appointment to see me simply call 02 93650004. Have an awesome day!