What is pain?
Think about it for a moment. Everyone has felt pain at one time or another, but have you really stopped to think about what is really happening? Acute pain is easy to describe. It is the cut on your knee, the ankle sprain or the broken arm. With acute pain, there is tissue damage. Chronic pain is something very different and occurs after the tissue has healed. One evidence-based method for decreasing chronic pain is to receive a solid explanation of the difference between acute and chronic pain. The biology of pain is weird and confuses many, causing not only myths to persist but also false beliefs that keep your nervous system wired—creating more pain.
Before we look at the myths, let me explain what pain is and what it isn’t.
Let’s start with the definition of pain.
“According to the International Association for the Study of Pain, pain is defined as an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage.”
The sensory part is what you feel in the body, the actual physical sensation of hurting. The emotional part is how your thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and emotions contribute to your overall pain experience – having the ability to either ramp up the sensation of pain or decrease it. You see, pain is much more than just about the physical. Pain is a complete brain-body-mind-emotional experience. This is what is missing from how we diagnose and treat pain AND what has lead to some of the most pervasive myths about pain that prevent you from healing. Including the overprescribing of medication and procedures that generally don’t work for chronic pain.
Here are the top ten myths about chronic pain!
Myth 1: If the doctor can’t find anything wrong medically, it must be “in your head”
Chronic pain is not “in your head”. This is one of the most common myths. Pain is very real, your pain is real no matter who you are or what you have been told! Pain is a complex experience of both the brain and body and believe it or not, not all doctors have received adequate training to assess or provide treatment. In fact, according to the Institute of Medicine, the average physician receives less than 9 hours of education on pain science during their training. That translates to just 0.2 percent of the time studying, even though pain consistently ranks as the #1 reason for a visit to a physician. Most of that training is spent learning about what kind of medication to prescribe, surgery to perform or injections to give; NOT studying treatments to heal pain naturally! Although not all pain has an identifiable cause, there are effective treatments for most painful conditions.
Myth 2: If people seek treatment or complain about their pain, it means they’re weak.
Seeking treatment has nothing to do with being weak or having a low pain tolerance. In fact, those who seek treatment early have a better chance of a 100% recovery! And pain is not something you should just “grin and bear” or “suck up.” Pain is an alarm; it is your brain’s way of getting your attention. Pain is your harm alarm. The challenge with chronic pain is the alarm is sounding when there is no imminent danger. Many people with chronic pain feel trapped and helpless, and do not want to burden anyone else with their problem. It is important for them to realize that there is no need to suffer because effective treatments are available. I discuss many safe and effective and natural treatments in my new book Heal Your Pain Now The Revolutionary Program to Reset Your Brain and Body for a Pain-Free Life.
Myth 3: Ignoring the pain will make it go away.
In most cases, ignoring ongoing pain will not make it go away, and it may even get worse. It is better to seek help from a caring, experienced specialist when pain persists or becomes a problem. And if you don’t get the relief you were hoping for with one practitioner don’t be scared to seek help from another. Pain is an alarm. It is a calling for your attention. Don’t ignore your pain.
Myth 4: If someone looks good, they can’t be in pain.
Unlike acute pain, which presents with redness or swelling the challenge with chronic pain is that it is absolutely INVISIBLE! Many people with chronic pain go about their daily life and do as much as they can, but never share with other people how uncomfortable they really are! Just because people look comfortable, does not mean they are not in pain. This misunderstanding creates emotional distress for people with chronic pain and often makes it difficult for them to find the network of support they need to improve.
Myth 5: Persistent pain means an injury hasn’t healed properly.
Injury and pain are not synonymous! Many patients with chronic pain have no history of a physical injury. This is commonly found in those with a history of emotional abuse or post-traumatic stress. And even if you did have a previous injury to a joint or body part, many are well past the normal healing time. All tissue heals within 3 months. If pain persists beyond the three-month period it is known as chronic pain. As pain persists there is less of a relationship to the tissues. With chronic pain is more about the brain and nervous system being hypersensitive. The brain is stuck in the alarm phase with pain being a strong motivator.
Myth 6: Pain means I should rest and not move.
Rest may be needed after an acute injury but with chronic pain, we know that gentle exercise and movement provides a number of positive benefits. Some of the many benefits include not only keeping you strong and mobile, but healthy movement releases powerful opiate-like endorphins that help to decrease pain. Yes, your brain has its own built-in medicine cabinet. Gentle exercise also sends a signal to the brain that moment is OK, you are safe, and helps to quiet an overly sensitive nervous system. The more you move, the more confident you feel. The more confident you feel the less fear of movement you have and can return to an active and pain-free life.
Myth 7: Imaging studies will tell me the cause of my pain.
The truth is bones and joint are not very attractive when x-rayed, especially as we get older. We all have some worn out surfaces as we age and this process begins as early as our twenties. Imaging studies are poorly correlated with pain. Some people with awful looking X-Rays have no pain, while others with normal X-Rays may be in absolute agony! Many of the reports found on imaging studies such as herniated disks, osteoarthritis, degeneration, tears, you name it do not correlate with ones report of pain. Remember, pain is both a sensory and emotional experience. We need to look to the brain for some of our answers about pain. I go over this in great length in my book Heal Your Pain Now where I discuss some of the latest advances regarding the “brain-in-pain,” and make it super easy to understand and apply to your specific problem.
Myth 8: Pain only occurs if there is a physical injury.
Let’s go back to the definition of pain. Pain is both an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience, which follows actual or potential tissue damage. The key word in this phrase is “potential” damage. If the brain feels threatened it can sound the alarm and produce pain as a way to get your attention or motivate you to take action like withdraw or run. This is logical from a survival perspective as the brain is very good at keeping you out of danger and safe.
Myth 9: Medication or surgery is the only way to solve my persistent pain.
For very few conditions there may be a time when surgery is needed or perhaps medication is used strategically in the lowest dose for the shortest amount of time as you regain your mobility. But we know that chronic pain is more about a sensitive nervous system involving multiple, multiple parts of the brain and spinal cord. To date, there is no surgery or medication that can effectively treat this. But there are natural ways to quite an overly sensitive nervous system and heal pain. I cover this in chapter 9 of my book where I discuss the brain and its influence on pain!
Myth 10: Persistent or chronic pain can’t be healed.
This is the biggest of the top ten myths to bust! With few exceptions, there is no need for anyone to live with unbearable persistent pain. Choosing integrative natural ways to heal pain are best and I cover the latest integrative strategies in my book Heal Your Pain Now. And let me leave you with this thought. Language can be extremely powerful. Words can either excite the nervous system causing pain to worsen or quiet the nervous system and alleviate pain. Simply telling someone that they are destined to live a life with chronic pain can actually make the pain worse in both its intensity and duration. Words can cause a nocebo effect. I’ve healed hundreds of thousands of people with chronic pain that now lead healthy and active lives.
When you discover the scientific truth behind these myths, you realize pain is no longer hopeless or needs to persist. And if you feel demoralized it’s understandable as the medical system has been treating pain all wrong. The truth about pain is always a surprise to those who are suffering… because it IS something you can affect AND change.