Pain is an unpleasant feeling, causing a reaction to protect the part that is painful. Everyone who has experienced pain knows what it is, but everyone’s pain is different. Many different factors affect an individual’s experience of pain and the exact contributors to pain are also different between individuals and between situations.
Pain is one way our body’s protective systems keep us safe. Danger detectors in the body send information to the brain, which may or may not create pain based on all the other information available, as well as previous experiences.
Danger detectors signal when tissue is approaching its safe limit, so most pain prevents tissue damage. When tissue is damaged, danger detectors become much more sensitive. Psychological and social factors, as well as past experiences, can powerfully influence pain by complex mechanisms in the brain.
Persistent or chronic pain (long-lasting pain that goes on for more than three months, or past normal tissue healing time) will usually involve the pain system becoming overprotective. This means that you can have pain even when your tissues are actually safe. This occurs because, like every other nervous system function, the pain system can learn over time to be more effective at protecting a certain body part. The influence of social and psychological factors usually becomes greater with persistent pain.
Because many factors affect pain, there are many things you can do to change pain. Recognising that pain is more than a physical sensation, but is influenced by sleep, exercise, your general health, attitudes, beliefs, mood, your environment and the people around you, means that all these things can provide new and better ways for you to change your pain, moment to moment and over time.
Over time, the pain system can learn to become less protective again. The best strategies to achieve this are activity based, psychological skills and self management strategies. Active strategies include learning about pain, gradually increasing your activity and movement, working on thoughts, emotions and coping skills.
Anyone concerned about pain that has lasted beyond the expected time for healing should consult their doctor, or refer to our Pain Directory to seek a pain service.