Think of pain as being your “harm alarm,” a signal that is designed to get your attention, to motivate you to escape whatever is causing it. After all, pain—potential harm—could mean injury or even death. In this way, pain serves a useful purpose because it is functions to keep you safe and alive. This all works quite well if you simply cut your finger while dicing vegetables for dinner. But what about chronic pain? According to the American Academy of Pain Medicine, more than 100 million Americans are living with a chronic pain condition, such as fibromyalgia, migraines, or back pain. Once pain becomes chronic, pain sounds its alarm regularly, perhaps even constantly. How do you escape something that’s coming from inside you?
Pain is in the Brain.
People often think of pain as being purely a sensory experience– meaning a highly unpleasant physical sensation—and they tend to ignore the psychological aspects of pain.
No matter the cause of your pain, or where you feel it in your body, it is all processed in your central nervous system which is controlled by your brain and spinal cord. It’s common to think of pain being located in the part of your body that hurts, such as back pain being located in your back. However even in cases where people have had surgery for back pain—their back pain is actually located centrally, in the nervous system. Your brain and entire nervous system are influenced by your thoughts, your feelings, your beliefs, your memory, and your environment. In fact, to a very large degree, how much pain you feel after surgery is determined by your mood and other psychological factors.
This doesn’t mean your pain isn’t real. It means that pain is fundamentally a psychological phenomenon. For everyone. Narrowly focusing on pain as a sensory problem has contributed to the overprescribing of opioid medication. [Read more…]