Why is pain so hard to define?
Think of the times you were in enough pain to go to the doctor. When you sat down on the bench, the Doctor asked, “What level of pain are you having; where is it on a scale of one to ten?” Your response was most likely something like, “Aaah I guess a seven or an eight.. yes, that’s about right”. After some small talk the Doctor would write you a prescription for something that would “ease your pain.” I am not against Doctors or conventional medicine (in moderation). What I am against is not taking responsibility for our bodies and truly understanding our symptoms well enough to explain in detail to a healthcare professional what exactly we are feeling. We need to be our own “healthcare self professionals”, and not just blindly listen, shake our heads yes, and take the meds, thinking this will cure our ails.
Not fully understanding and explaining your level of pain puts your Doctor in a tough position for knowing what dosage to prescribe, and for how long the prescription should be available for. A person could experience overprescription and overuse of opioids, not knowing they are becoming dependent until… they are. Since the issues of the past practices are now coming into the light, there will be a lot more discussion about how to address this serious problem. Pain management needs to move into a two-way educated conversation between doctor and patient.
Why is pain so hard to define? First we have to understand what pain is. Pain can be many things, and it is different to every person, but what is known is that there are definite categories of pain.
We’ll start with the physical. Nerve pain happens when the nerve fibers get damaged, and the result can be chronic pain. Musculoskeletal pain is pain that affects the muscles, tendons, bones, and ligaments. Many active adults, athletes and weekend warriors have a common form of chronic pain that involves overworked or strained muscles. It happens when your muscles are used incorrectly, either by exerting past where you should and pushing too hard, or using improper form when working out or lifting weights. Central pain syndrome comes from a stroke, multiple sclerosis, or spinal cord injuries which can result in chronic pain and burning syndromes from damage to brain regions. There are also very specific stomach pain and joint pain differences. On top of this, you may have heard of Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, Diabetes-Related Nerve Pain (Neuropathy), Shingles Pain (Postherpetic Neuralgia), and Trigeminal Neuralgia.
When talking about pain, we can also describe pain as psychological pain, mental pain, emotional pain, psychic pain, social pain, spiritual or soul pain, or suffering. All of these represent an awareness of negativity in our thoughts (head), and these negative thoughts are accompanied by unpleasant feelings (heart). Psychological pain is mental suffering, mental torment, and “hurt”.
Everyone has a different tolerance for pain, both physical and psychological. This is why it is so hard for health care and mental health care professionals to understand how best to help their patients. Many people “suffer through the pain” thinking this makes them look tough. Many people won’t admit they have chronic pain, further doing damage over the long run to their outlook on life, their relationships, and their bodies. With psychological pain, it’s sometimes hard to describe your level of hurt, because it can be difficult to talk in confidence about what you are experiencing, and sometimes… our minds lie to us, telling us how perfect our physical and mental health is, which causes us to ignore the self-inflicted potentially damaging “pain” even more.
Whatever the reason for your pain, especially since physiological pain seems to be a universal human condition, I ask you to consider understanding what exactly your pain is. Talk to some close friends, your spouse or partner, read up on your symptoms in 5 publications, all with varying or contrasting opinions. Learn all the outcomes, cures and remedies–which may include OTC medications, opioids (Don’t stay on these more than a few weeks) and alternative, organic or natural medicines.
Whatever you decide to do; cure yourself, or go to the Doctor, make sure you do your homework before you go, take the time and really talk and listen to your doctor, and finally, make sure your answers and conversations do not just consist of the words, “seven” or “eight”.