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  • Writer's pictureJessica Gradel,DC,MS,L.Ac

What is pain?

knowing what, why, and how, can help you reclaim a pain-free life.


Let's break that down. Pain is our body and mind's way of letting us know that something has caused us harm or is likely to cause us harm. Pain in that sense should not be seen as a negative it is simply your body and mind's way of giving you a heads up that things are not quite right.

Pain in that sense is a very individual and learned experience. If you were raised to think if the bone is sticking out of an injury or blood is gushing profusely then you can walk it off you have a very different relationship to adverse sensory input compared to someone that was raised to under the impression that all injuries need to be looked at and cared for and that you should be cautious because you may re-injury an area.

Now those are two ends of the spectrum but it is very important to know where you are on that spectrum when you are undergoing rehabilitation or caring for a significant injury.

Emotions are another major factor of pain. Fear can cause many people to avoid activities that they believe will hurt them or has a very high potential to cause injury. FEAR AVOIDANT behavior can impact how willing you are to return to doing the very activity you injuries yourself doing.

Emotions that are negative are Stress to the body and mind. Environments, where you feel constantly under pressure, under-appreciated, and potentially erode your motivation and or self -esteem, can also cause pain. Because again pain is the mind and body's way of telling you that something isn't quite right.

Depression though thought of as an emotional disorder has very physical symptoms such as chronic low back pain, body aches, lethargy, and stiffness.

But the really interesting aspect of pain from the physical aspect is that there isn't one specific nerve that is responsible for pain. Sure if you dig you will find C-fibers and other sensory input types that are associated with some nearly universal perceptions when stimulated. However, that input is run through a complex filter/ computing machine that is the brain. Again though there isn't one specific area associated with pain perception either. Multiple areas are active while someone is experiencing pain.

Which might be why it is hard for many people to describe their pain. If I had a nickel for every time " I don't know it just hurts" is said when I ask a patient to describe their pain would likely have paid off my student loans by now.

So what happens when Acute pain becomes Chronic? Sometimes after tissues heal we still experience pain and that might be due to emotions and beliefs telling us that xyz activity is dangerous because it was similar to the activity that initially triggered the injury. Sensory input is a pattern the brain reads and decides safe or not safe. If our belief is that all negative sensory input is dangerous then it is very likely that chronic pain and fear avoidant behaviors persist. In a sense, we have to reteach the mind to that xyz activities are safe and it doesn't need to be on guard or have the volume turned up on an area of the previous injury.

Some times as tissues heal scarring and changes to tissue such as flexibility and pliability are changed and can take longer than expected to heal properly. This is why proper rehabilitation is important. It is necessary to gradually increase capacity to tissues to prevent a cycle of healing and re-injury, which can lead to increase sensitivity and hyper-awareness of the area of repeated injury.

Knowing the causes of pain is important in deciding how to treat painful conditions. If you don't know what you are treating then you are guessing and potentially make conditions worse, or jumping to surgical interventions may not be necessary.

If you are interested in Pain Science I highly recommend reading the following and visiting the following websites:

by David Butler; Lorimer Moseley

by Stuart McGill; Brian Carroll


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