Pain science is a really exciting area of research based on the idea that pain is a function of our nervous system that’s meant to protect us.
In the past, the medical field viewed pain in more simplistic terms. If we had an injury to our body, our nervous system would send a signal to our brain. If it hurt more, that meant we had a serious injury. If it hurt less, it meant that wasn’t such a big deal.
Now we know that pain isn’t really that simple. It’s not always a 100% accurate indicator of what’s going on in our bodies.
Instead, it’s meant to keep us safe and tell us when we need to take action to protect ourselves. But there’s a lot that goes into this, including our overall health, our thoughts at the time, and our beliefs about what’s happening in our body.
At times, the “pain alarm system” can malfunction. People can experience devastating injuries and feel no pain, or they can experience excruciating pain from injuries that are technically “minor.” Like all of the systems in our body, pain is here for our benefit– yet the pain system doesn’t always work perfectly.
Sometimes, after a traumatic experience, the system can go into “overdrive.” It’s like someone took the volume button for our pain, and turned it all the way up high. (That’s what happened to me, and why I ended up on this journey with central sensitization/fibromyalgia).
Pain scientists believe that, the more we begin to understand that pain is meant to keep us safe, the more tools we can develop to “turn the volume” back down.
In fact, research has shown that simply educating chronic pain patients on how the pain alarm system works can have a dramatic effect on reducing these patients’ level of pain. In my experience, there’s something almost magical that takes place when you truly begin to understand your nervous system, and realize that, in spite of how much pain you’re in, your body is actually trying to keep you safe.
This is the philosophy behind Pain Neurophysiology Education, the approach to chronic pain treatment that finally helped me, after years of suffering.
Some of the original researchers behind this approach include David Butler and Lorimer Moseley. Their work, in turn, strongly influenced Neil Pearson, who developed the approach to pain neurophysiology education that helped me.
In this section of my blog, I’ll be discussing some of the research that’s being done on pain science, and give shout-outs to the people who’ve been moving the field forward.
- Understanding pain as your body’s alarm system
- Understanding pain as an overprotective friend
- Todd Hargrove: Seven Things You Should Know About about Pain Science
- The story of my wrist, and the pot of boiling water (Finally, my own pain science metaphor!).
- Too much of a good thing: when people don’t really *get* pain science