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Pain Science Part 2

By Katie Lauder, DPT

In last week’s blog we visited the newer science of “pain science” and talked about pain as an alarm system for your body which is controlled by the brain. The information is fascinating but how can it be of use? A 2021 study by Leake et al titled “What do patients value learning about pain? A mixed-methods survey on the relevance of target concepts after pain science education” helps to show us how education on pain science can help decrease pain.

Understanding that pain does not mean you are hurt can go a long way. First off, it gives us the green (or at least the yellow) light to continue moving our bodies and exercising even if we may have persistent pain. Secondly, it can decrease the stress and anxiety that often accompany pain by eliminating the misconception that pain means we are damaging our bodies.

Understanding that thoughts, emotions, and experiences can affect pain can help us grasp the reason our body is giving us a pain signal. As emotional stress increases, a hormonal cascade is released which can also intensify our pain response. Managing our emotional stress with therapy, meditation, exercise can in turn decrease pain.

Knowing that you can retrain your overprotective pain system gives hope and encouragement. You know that feeling you get when you have made a succinct plan to tackle a big project? There is some anticipation but also confidence and relief that you have practically begun the project already. That is the feeling patients report having when they grasp the concept of pain science and believe in his/her ability to change the body’s pain response.

Grasping and accepting this new concept of pain science is, in itself, good for your pain, however it is not enough. You have to replace your previously held beliefs about pain with this new concept in order to achieve the best results with pain science education.

Consider this information but don’t feel like you have to manage your pain alone. Physical therapists and even some mental health therapists are well versed in this method of pain management, and they typically use it in conjunction with other methods of pain management to address the physical aspects of pain as well. In this instance, as is often the case, knowledge is power. The more you know about the pain system the better you will be at managing your pain. 

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