What is Pain?



Post Category: For Individuals


What is pain?

Experiencing pain and understanding it are completely different things. 

You could be in excruciating pain right now and know very little about the “how” or “why.”

That being said, if you are in pain, it’s much easier to get out of it once you have a basic understanding of how it works. 

Here’s our working definition of pain, “The negative emotional response associated with irritation, made worse by uncertainty.”

If you’re like most people, you might have some difficulty filing pain under the “emotion” category the first time you hear the definition. Don’t worry; we’re not trying to minimize or dismiss your pain.

We’ll unpack what that definition means and help you see why this view of pain is empowering. 

Before we get into that, we need to define one more word; irritation. Irritation is the conscious intake of stimulus; in other words, when it happens, you feel it. 

The irritation is the data your nervous system receives when something happens. It’s up to our brains to determine whether or not it’s painful. 

There’s an interesting story told by Dr. Lorimer Moseley about when he was bitten by a snake. He was out walking through the bush an extremely venomous snake bit him on the leg. Initially, he thought it was a piece of foliage he had brushed as he was walking, but the searing pain that later followed from the venom and marks from the snake bite told a different story. Sometime later, after a full recovery from the bite, he was walking through the bush again, and he felt something sharp on his leg. Instantly he jumped away in fear, and he felt the familiar pain of the snake bite and the dread of toxic venom coursing through his veins, only this time, there was none. It was only a stick, and the pain went away. 

There was irritation in both scenarios; however, the pain from the irritation was non-existent from the bite itself. The pain the second time around had almost nothing to do with the stick; it was all emotion. What does this have to do with you?

When we accept that pain is an emotional response, we do two important things;

  1. We divorce pain from damage- We recognize that pain doesn’t equal damage. That means not every ache, pain, and twinge breaks something down. Pain is something you can work through and overcome. 

  2. We acknowledge its importance- Emotions are essential, and the reason why is right in the word “E-motion.” They are nature's way of putting us into motion. Pain, an emotion, is often accompanied by danger; it tells us to pay attention and take appropriate action.

What about your pain?

Your neck, back, knee, or shoulder pain probably wasn’t caused by a snake bite. You may have even been dealing with it for years. 

Why should you care about this definition of pain?

Accepting it means you don’t have to be stuck where you’re at forever. 

It means there’s a way out. 

It means there’s more to pain than disability and suffering. 

It means there are building blocks that comprise your pain, and you can disassemble them one movement pattern, exercise, and lifestyle change at a time. 

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