Everyone experiences aches and pains each day of a varying nature. Some are fleeting twinges, others are associated with an injury, sitting too long and stress, or in many cases there is a gradual creep over a period of time. The process of going from a pain free state to a painful state is complex and contextual. In other words, there are a number of factors that determine whether or not we feel pain and how much we feel.
What is normal?
In a sense this depends upon the individual and his or her take upon their pain. What meaning do you give to the pain? Our experience will be coloured by this meaning, for example, the response in thought and action to ‘I have sat too long’ versus ‘I have serious tissue damage’ will be very different. This is simply why it is so important that we explain pain so that we can disarm the threat and take control of a pathway forwards.
When aches and pains persist
It seems that around 1 in 5 people suffer on-going pain. This is a big chunk of society with painful problems that can have serious affects upon quality of life. Many people whom I see tell me of their limitations, avoidances, fears, stresses and other ways in which the pain is impacting upon them. Often there is a lack of understanding of what is really going on in the body and this creates its own form of worry that can only perpetuate the pain and tension.
In particular there is a noticeable trend in my clinics around women in pain – see first part of a series of blogs looking at women and pain here. There are frequently widespread pains and sensitivities tied in with emotional stresses. We know a great deal about the interaction of stress and pain now and that many persisting problems are underpinned by central sensitisation. This is an adaptation within the nervous system that explains certain patterns of pain that we can target with a range of modern therapies born out of the latest neuroscience.
Thinking differently about pain
Once pain is understood there can be a significant and positive shift in how an individual approaches the problem. Alongside this re-framing we would typically use treatments and training (physical and cognitive) to develop confidence in moving, exercising and engaging in other activities that reduce symptoms and improve wellbeing. This really is a time of using sense and science for health and performance.