What is Pain?

What is Pain?

Pain is a signal sent through nerve fibres to the brain for interpretation on what to do. Severe pain causes a reflex for the body to move or support a body part. For example touching something hot results in the message only travelling to the spinal cord and having a reflex to move which is why it's fast.

 Pain is a sensory experience to allow the brain to decide what to do and the experience is different for everybody. There are different ways to feel and describe pain and this can make it difficult to define the root cause and to treat.

Pain can be short term lasting only a few days or long term lasting years. It can stay in one place in the body or move around and can vary in intensity throughout the day.  

Types of Pain

Pain can be acute or chronic 

Acute Pain tends to intense and short lived. The acute phase is only about 2 to 4 weeks. Injury tends to link to tissue damage and can range from dropping something on your foot to an impact injury from a fall. The body and brain respond to acute pain by flooding the area with pain relief cells so reducing the intensity. You also tend to modify your movement so as not to aggravate the point of injury and pain.

For example if you break your arm, you immediately have acute intense pain. Your body floods the area with pain relief cells and you hold the arm to stop it moving. As you go to hospital the pain reduces as long as you keep your arm immobilised. The hospital then ensure your arm is straight then plaster the arm for long term immobilisation while it heals. The body continues to send pain relief cells and inflammation cells that start repairing the break. After a short time the pain is reduced and the bone after six weeks is repaired.

Chronic Pain last far longer than acute pain. It is often difficult to resolve. Chronic pain can be mild or severe in intensity, it can be constantly in the background like with arthritis, or intermittent like migraines. Chronic pain tends to be always there some days or points in the day its less painful, at other points or day days it is worse depending on activity or time of day.

With chronic pain the nerve signals to the brain slow down and stop as the nervous system becomes used to the pain stimulus and essentially ignores it. This is why people who have chronic pain cope well and have what is described as a high pain threshold. The nerves are constantly sending pain signals to the brain some are ignored and deemed normal and others for example when moving with a bad back are received, that is why the chronic pain fluctuates in intensity.

Describing Pain

InterX pain clinic use a pain diary (available here) to help track and describe pain. This is essential as it focuses on the type of pain, the intensity, area, time of day and for how long. This pain information helps identify patterns and coping mechanisms in dealing with pain and helps point to the root cause.

Diagnosing the source of pain relies on the patient's own description and interpretation. The magnitude or intensity of the pain can be described on a pain scale 1 to 10 with 1 been no pain and 10 been severe.

  • The character of all the pain felt by the patient, for example stabbing, shooting or burning pain tends to be more intense or acute. Whereas throbbing or aching tend to be more chronic pain.
  • The site of pain, does it radiate from a point or spread.
  • What makes the pain worse or less painful
  • When in the day is the highest pain level, or most difficult to cope with
  • Is Pain impacting on sleep and rest linking to daily life and mood
  • What is your understanding of the pain you are in

Most of the above points are covered in the downloadable pain diary. However the areas above help to focus you on specifics with pain and guide you more towards a root cause.

Treatment of Pain

Medication is the standard first line in treating pain and falls into two camps, either pain killers or anti inflammatory drugs. They vary in strength depending on the intensity of the pain. Over the counter drugs work for short term pain issues. Anything longer than a few days and prescription medication maybe needed along with a GP consultation. Acute or severe pain is usually dealt with in a hospital environment while under observation.

Medication acts to switch off the nerves sending the pain messages to the brain. They work on the chemical centre of the nerve and block the messaging. As they work on the chemical portion of a nerve they only last a short time before another dose is needed. Nerve communication is 2% chemical and 98% electrical which is why InterX treatment is so effective in pain relief and much longer lasting (more information on InterX treatment Here).

Nerve Blocks: These take varying forms but essentially they are a surgical injection into the painful area or nerve root.

Surgery: There are extensive surgical procedures to help with joint pain, from replacement joints to joint fusion and spinal cord stimulation

Alternatives to Medication

Acupuncture: Uses a needles at specific points to target nerve stimulation and reduce pain. Acupuncture is a very effective pain treatment and is under used as a pain treatment strategy.

Physical Manipulation: Physiotherapists, Chiropractors and Osteopaths are excellent and physical manipulation and helping correct body posture and joint alignment. They are able to reset the body and work on the soft tissue of the body.

Relaxation Therapies: This covers a wide range of treatment and is effective in isolation or as part of a combined therapy. Yoga, meditation, massage therapy, distraction techniques, and tai chi.

Hypnosis: This is very effective in helping with physical pain that links to mental trauma or stress. This helps to take away the mental baggage that is causing the physical pain. This can be used in conjunction with Psychotherapy and Cogitative Behavioural therapy (CBT).

Heat, Cold and Rest: are all effective in helping treat pain, rest especially is under- utilised.

InterX Treatment: Works through the nerves and is highly effective at treating pain and is available at InterX Pain Clinic. More information on InterX Treatment is available here

With effective pain management, it is possible to maintain daily activities, social engagement, and an active quality of life.

Some Pain Relief Tips and Strategies are available here

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