Pain stinks! Especially when it becomes chronic in nature (>6 months). In order to best combat chronic pain, it is beneficial to understand what pain is and what can contribute to it. The International Association for the Study of Pain defines pain as “an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage, or described in terms of such damage.”
The key big takeaway from this definition is that pain is an experience associated with actual OR potential tissue damage. Essentially, pain is our body’s alarm system when it perceives there might be something wrong. That means that pain is not always correlated with actual physical damage to the tissues of our body. In fact, the reverse can be said in that those that have physical damage to their tissues might not experience any pain at all!
There are many studies that provide evidence for this. A systematic review (highest quality of evidence), performed by Culvenor et al, about the prevalence of knee osteoarthritis among those adults that do not have pain. They found that 19-43% of adults ≥ 40 years old diagnosed with knee osteoarthritis seen with MRI imaging have NO pain at all! So, how do we make sense of this? Are age-related degenerative joint changes no different than wrinkles on our skin?
There is no doubt that if someone has structural tissue damage, that they have a higher chance of experiencing pain than those that do not. However as we just learned, there are many other more factors contributing to chronic pain. These factors include nutrition, sleep, physical exercise, fear of pain, perception of pain, anxiety, depression, and anger.
In conclusion, pain is like our body’s alarm system. It can be triggered by actual tissue damage, but it also can be made worse by psychological factors such as your emotional response and perception of pain. If you suffer from chronic pain, remember that your body is not as fragile as it seems. Our thoughts/emotions are powerful, so use them to your advantage. Focus on your recovery and try not to fixate on your pain.