Pain is a normal part of the human experience and serves as a warning sign of a potential threat to your health. Whether it’s normal or not, the experience of pain can be frightening and confusing to deal with. This guide was created to help you understand your pain better, how it works, what it means, and what you can do about it. Knowledge can bring peace of mind, and help you to take steps toward solving the pain that keeps you from living your life how you want.
Four keys of understanding pain
The first thing we need to discuss is what pain is and the purpose it serves in our body. These keys are written very abstractly. I will start by listing each one out and then breaking them down in more detail below.
Pain does not accurately predict the state of the tissues
Pain is modulated by many factors across physical, psychological, and social domains
The relationship between pain and the state of the tissues becomes less predictable the longer you’re in pain
Pain can be conceptualized as your conscious awareness and belief that the tissue is in danger
Pain is weird
You’re walking to the kitchen for a glass of water in the middle of the night when ZING!, that chair came out of nowhere and you groggily stub your toe. Ouch.
This is the typical way people perceive and understand pain, but this direct relationship with injury is only one way that we experience it. This acute pain that is directly linked to injury is vastly different from chronic, or long-term pain. With long-term pain the injury itself has typically already healed, but the pain still exists. Why?
What you need to understand is that pain functions in our body as an alarm system, warning us about potential threats.
Consider, for a moment, the phenomenon of phantom limb pain. Phantom limb pain is described as the sensation and perception of pain or discomfort in a missing limb, and is relatively common after amputations. This phenomenon ties back to the first key to pain, that pain does not accurately predict the state of the tissues. In the case of phantom pain, the individual experiences very real pain in tissues that no longer exist physically. Weird, right?
It’s not as weird as you might think.
We all have a “body map” in our brain that we use to move and feel. This is why you can still wiggle your fingers and touch your nose with your eyes closed. If you consider that the person’s limb is no longer there, but the brain map still exists, it’s as if the limb went “radio silence”, which could be perceived by your brain as a sign of a potentially serious threat.
Pain is a warning system, an alarm. To make long term pain go away, you need to shut off the alarm.
Are you saying it’s all in my head?
Not at all, but it is in your brain.
Your brain is very complex and no single area functions in isolation; rather it uses relationships to coordinate various areas of your brain in very specific patterns. These patterns are unique to you and ultimately shape your perceptions; how you view both yourself and the world around you. This is the principle behind what is known as the neuromatrix, or neuromap.
Let’s try an experiment.
Close your eyes and think of your favorite holiday with family. When you do this your hippocampus lights up because it’s involved heavily in memory, but areas involved with smell and taste will also activate, especially if you’re thinking about a meal. This is your neuromatrix at work.
Now I’m sure you saw this coming, but there are neuromatrixes for different things we experience, including pain.
Your beliefs can impact your pain
While it may sound like nonsense, your fears, anxieties, expectations, and beliefs all affect the frequency and intensity of the pain you experience.
This pain matrix involves a number of areas of our brain, including those involved in emotional and psychological processes. It is through these areas that your beliefs, expectations, and memories can influence your pain.
Have you ever taken a hard hit or fall while playing sports or been in a serious car accident? Do you cringe when you see it happen to others? Maybe you feel a twinge of pain as you briefly remember your own experience. This emotional and psychological influence on your perception is also why heartbreak and sadness can physically hurt, they use the same matrix as physical pain. If the feelings, and therefore the threat, is high enough, the pain can feel just as real as that stubbed toe example from above.
So what do I do?
There are many ways that pain exists in the body, and many potential reasons. Identifying the true cause of your pain is something a physical therapist can help with. If you feel confused by your pain, and have not recently had an acute trauma, your best bet would be to schedule an appointment with a physical therapist that you trust. Doctors of physical therapy are well educated and practiced in screening for dangerous conditions, as well as movement disorders and long-term pain. They will be able to perform a more in depth analysis to identify the root cause of your issue, and help you to eliminate it.
Getting an official assessment is the first step toward conquering your pain and getting back to what you love to do, without restriction.
Do I need a script to come to PT?
All 50 states, New Jersey included, have some form of direct access law, meaning you can see a physical therapist without a prescription. In the state of New Jersey, there are no restrictions on access to PT services.
Who are we?
We are Next Level Physical Therapy, and we do things a little bit differently. When you work with us, you will always receive one-on-one care with a therapist you trust. Our clinicians are never double booked so their attention is right where it belongs, on you and your family.
We are open minded and driven to achieve superior outcomes. Following dogma in treatment can lead you to miss important details. We seamlessly connect multiple world-renowned systems to make sure that nothing is missed, and to streamline your recovery. Our four stage process integrates our four pillars of rehabilitation with our performance pyramid, and top-notch diagnostic exams.
What does this mean for you? It means we help our patients get out of pain and get back to doing what they love 2-3x faster than the industry average.
If you have pain that just won’t quit, or keeps coming back, we can help. Schedule a no pressure discovery session to see if you feel we’re the right fit for you, and to get expert advice about your pain. We will help you finally get some clear answers and discuss the best solutions available to you, even if it’s not with us. We understand that finding quality care is a challenge, that’s why the first session is always free.
What are you waiting for? Call us now to reach your Next Level!