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Pain Science for Clients

Updated: Aug 3, 2021

I have come across pain being defined as an aversive sensory and emotional experience. This definition may mean little to someone who does not work with the body, so the next definition I learned resonated a bit more actionably when explaining to clients what troubles them.

Pain is an unpleasant feeling in our body that makes us want to stop and change our behavior. Pain makes us reflect and evaluate the level of danger of our body tissue and initiate the need for protective behavior.

Simply, when we have pain to address that we need protection. This seems simple enough, but even as a pain management professional I get tripped up about my own pain and it's hard for me to objectively remove myself. This is where the professional help of another human is helpful. Pain is more than a physical experience, it is an emotional one as well. Pain can limit us from activities that we love, and this can be very difficult to manage alone.

A common misconception about pain is that it automatically means damage. You do not need to have tissue damage to have pain. Pain can be a sign of how badly your body is craving and needing protection. Pain and its causes are multidirectional. It’s biological. It’s psychological. And it is affected by our social environment as well. Pain is a big overlapping interaction between all of these things.

Because pain does not automatically mean damage, seeking help from a pain management professional is a helpful first step. Having imaging done right away (X-rays, MRIs, CT) can cause unnecessary distress and psychological rumination on the problem instead of the solution.

Pain occurs when we have credible evidence of danger, related to our body is greater than our credible evidence of safety. Pain and nociception are different phenomena, the experience of pain cannot be reduced to activity in sensory pathways. Pain may have adverse effects on function, social, and psychological well-being. Therefore, a person's report of an experience as pain should be accepted as such and respected. Individuals learn about pain through life experience, therefore someone's pain is always a subjective experience. If someone tells you they have pain, you should believe them.

The overflowing cup idea.

We all have a cup of tolerance. Our pain typically manifests when our cup overflows with all our stressors. The solution is to build a bigger cup so the multiple factors of life and its stressors do not overflow as easily. Typically, in an intake process the therapist is learning about the multiple stressors that may contribute to the pain. Sometimes tackling even just one area of the overflowing up can help aid in building a bigger cup. Allowing more space for the body and mind to begin to regulate itself again. Working with pain means building evidence of safety to ensure it is greater than our credible evidence of danger. Working with another human who believes that you are in pain and is willing to help manage your pain, subconsciously reassures your body that you are safe and allows healing to begin. Sources:

Dr. Greg Lehman

Dr. Melissa Farmer

Moseley and Butler

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