Pain is something we may experience every day in one form or another.
It’s a part of life, and yet our experience of it can lead to catastrophic changes in our physical, mental, and emotional health. Pain— it’s why we go to the doctor, take pain relievers, and seek holistic treatments like massage and acupuncture.
But what is pain?
And what is a normal amount of pain to experience on a day-to-day basis? Here, we’ll discuss the basics of pain, the difference between acute and chronic pain, and how to determine your best way forward.
If you’ve ever rolled your ankle, you probably noticed immediate, intense pain, followed by bruising and swelling. You experienced acute pain, or pain associated with the chemical release from tissue damage. When an injury occurs, the brain receives messages reporting harm to an area; thus, it instantly sends pain signals to the injured area to protect it while it heals. Think of acute pain as your protective buffer like a “Do Not Use” sign on a bathroom. This type of pain is often purposeful, predictable, and finite. It is intense right after injury to help your body to make safe choices and subsides as time goes on. Chronic pain, however, follows a different pattern.
When the same pain is experienced for longer than 3 months, it is considered chronic or persistent. By this time, tissue healing should have occurred, and the body should be returning to normal functioning. Chronic pain is estimated to affect over 25% of people. So where does the body go wrong with chronic pain? Factors such as stress, emotion and your perception/beliefs about your health and safety play a significant role in how you experience pain. Pain is created in the brain when it perceives a threat. So, when a person is in a highly stressed or emotional state, their brain is in overdrive. This makes the person more likely to experience pain in an amplified manner.
In addition to a person’s individual factors, underlying disease may mimic acute pain in the beginning and turn into chronic pain. For instance, low back pain can be caused by other conditions besides spinal tissue injury, such as kidney disease, cancer, and gastrointestinal problems. This type of pain doesn’t usually get better over time like acute pain. Chronic pain symptoms tend to be diffuse, constant, dull, and nagging.
So, if you’re having pain, when should you seek medical evaluation? Here are a few tips on pain. If you’ve recently hurt yourself, pain is normal, or at least expected. On a scale of 0-10, if it’s higher than a seven, you should see an appropriate health care provider. If you’ve recently exercised (within 48 hours), delayed onset muscle soreness is normal. However, if you have unrelenting pain in an area that is not getting better, especially with no known cause, it’s time to get medical attention.
If you have an injury and are trying to push through the pain to make yourself “stronger,” you may be injuring your body even more. Sometimes pain is your body’s way of telling you to back off so it can heal. Listen to your body and get help when necessary.
The Physical Therapists at Physical Therapy Specialists will be able to help you with your acute or chronic pain by helping you understand your pain, and developing strategies for pain relief depending on the cause.
Give us a call today to set up a consultation.
1. Crofford LJ. Chronic Pain: Where the Body Meets the Brain. Trans Am Clin Climatol Assoc. 2015;126:167-183.
2. Calpin P, Imran A, Harmon D. A Comparison of Expectations of Physicians and Patients with Chronic Pain for Pain Clinic Visits. Pain Pract. 2017;17(3):305-311. doi:10.1111/papr.12428.
3. Butler D, Moseley L: Explain Pain, NOI Publications 2012