What is Pain? An Introduction

Question markImage courtesy of dream designs at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Pain is a very complicated process. Treating the pain process is even more complicated, which may be one reason why you are here. Have you tried every treatment known to you, your friends, or relatives and nothing worked? I have some good news. Regardless of  any previous treatment that you have experienced, you may have the capability to recover from your pain!

I hope that you join me in this journey to understand pain and to ultimately take charge of it.

Let’s begin with the most important concept of pain, which is to understand that PAIN IS ALWAYS REAL.  This is an important statement because you may experience pain but the reason may be unclear.   So, the pain we experience is always real, it is the origin of pain that we are trying to figure out and that is what this website is all about. To help understand my point, here is the definition of pain by the International Association of the Study of Pain (IASP):

Pain is defined as an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with

actual or potential tissue damage, or described in terms of such damage.”

This definition of pain by the IASP consists of two very important concepts.

Part 1. Pain can be an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience.

Examples of unpleasant sensory experiences include touching an object that is too hot or too cold, burns, getting a paper cut, getting pinched, excessive pressure or tissue injury.

Examples of unpleasant emotional experiences leading to pain include an increase in stress, expecting pain, or worrying that there is a problem with a body part.

Part 2. Pain can occur because of actual tissue damage or potential tissue damage.

I think we know that actual tissue damage can lead to pain and examples are probably not needed.

An example of potential tissue damage creating a unpleasant sensation includes touching a hot stove and moving your hand before you experience pain. Protecting the body from injury is a reason why pain can increase due to potential tissue damage.

In the book Painful Yarns by Lorimer Moseley, he shares a story about a snake bite experience to explain how pain can occur due to potential tissue damage to protect the body.  While on a hiking adventure, he felt a scratch on his leg. He didn’t think anything about it, but ended up in the hospital because he was bitten by the second most deadliest snake in the world. He recovered from the injury and something interesting occurred when he went hiking again. While walking, he felt the same exact scratch on his leg, but this time he fell to the ground in agony. A friend went to his aide and was ready to call for help. He looked at his ankle and it turned out to be just a scratch.

Why would a simple scratch the first time have minimal pain, then the second time, be very painful?

After experiencing a medical emergency when he felt the first scratch, his brain created a memory of the incident. The second scratch triggered the memory of the pain to protect the body from potential injury. Does this sound complicated?

This experience is similar to a child that you tickle. After tickling a child for a prolonged period of time, they can laugh and protect their body even if you wiggle your fingers without touching them. Tickling a child can make them more sensitive to being tickled. Much like pain may increase the sensitivity to more pain in the future.

Please remember that the body requires a brain, spinal cord, and nerves to experience pain. Most treatment theories focus on how joints, muscles, ligaments, and tendons move and activate. This website will focus on the neurological aspect of how the various parts of the body are connected and how we can change the nervous system in a positive way through education, movement exercises, and manual therapy.

Modern pain scientists are publishing new information about pain on a constant basis and the information found in this website may be considered completely foreign to most people.  Please don’t worry if you are having difficulty understanding these concepts at this time.

This website will discuss every aspect of the IASP’s pain definition and how to address each component to take control of your pain. References will be provided in the upcoming chapters which are designed for readers and  health care providers to obtain the sources of the information that is posted on this website.

The next section will explain pain in a slightly deeper fashion using stories and metaphors, which researchers have found to be the best way to understand pain.


International Association for the Study of Pain. IASP Taxonomy. http://www.iasp-pain.org/Education/Content.aspx?ItemNumber= 1698[/embed]. Accessed May 27, 2014.

Moseley GL. Painful Yarns: Stories and Metaphors to Help Understand the Biology of Pain. Canberra, Australia Dancing Giraffe Press; 2007

Photo: http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/images/Other_Business_Conce_g200-Man_Stuck_Under_A_Question_Mark_p165164.html




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