How should we help persistent pain sufferers?

Summer 2020 By David Stevens | Clinical Physiotherapist at PAM Physio Solutions for OH Today Magazine
Pain can have a huge impact on us. It is unpleasant, both physically and emotionally. Once we have experienced pain, we are reluctant to experience it again.
As we get older, we pay more attention to pain. Babies don’t really know what it means – they just cry. As we get older, pain doesn’t make us cry in the same way, but it does upset us. We start to learn more about what pain means and it begins to have a more profound effect on us.

Why do we have pain?

Most scientists think humans and other intelligent or higher-level animals experience pain in order to survive. We need a system that alerts us to when we have damaged ourselves or when we are in danger, to prevent further harm being done.

The Pain Alarm System

If we were to tread on a nail and it didn’t hurt, we wouldn’t know we had a dirty metal object in our skin and flesh. We wouldn’t know that bacteria were making their way around our body. As we all know, infection can kill rapidly. Evolution has come up with a system of alerting us to danger, so in the above case, we would see a medical professional and get treatment.

If we put our hand on something hot, we have learned to take it away fast, to limit the damage. If our back hurts, we tend to do less physical activities. We instinctively want to protect ourselves from further harm. This is generally good, but sometimes it can be detrimental to our wellbeing and livelihoods.

How does Pain work?

We used to think that pain was experienced in the body part that was damaged. So, if we stubbed a toe, we automatically assumed the pain was produced in the toe. However, we’ve now realised that it is the brain that causes the pain – not the damaged part. In simple terms, pain is produced when the body is damaged. Chemicals in the damaged cells are released into the surrounding area and chemicals end up activating nerves in the damaged tissues. These nerves then send a signal to our brain. Only when these signals reach our brain and are processed by all the different parts of the brain, do we feel or experience pain.

Read more here: OH Today

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