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Doing Life Together

abdominal-pain-2821941_640When Aldous Huxley wrote the novel Brave New World in 1932, people thought he was describing a totalitarian nightmare. However today, we might align more with the notion of wanting an ideal pleasure drug so as not to experience any unpleasant emotion. Modern America likes to medicate away chronic pain, but is this a good idea? And why do we do it?

Pain is unpleasant by definition. It’s purpose is to alert us to do something such as protect our body. Pain is an important survival mechanism. And we now know that pain is created in the brain. No brain, no pain! When a part of your body is injured, nerve endings send signals to the brain. Many parts of the brain are involved in signaling pain. And the severity of the pain feeling is not tied to the severity of injury. Pain is in the brain and there are times the brain thinks the body is in danger and it is not.

And here is the kicker, pain breeds pain. In other words, the more times your brain activates a neural pathway for pain, the easier it is to activate that pathway over and over. This is how chronic pain is born. The pain pathway is learned and used over and over. And the triggers around the pain become associated with that pain and remembered in the brain as well. For example, you sit at your desk and feel pain. The  brain remembers the desk as triggering pain. The next time you sit at the desk, the brain remembers and you feel pain. This conditioned association is why we feel pain at certain times and places long after the injury has healed.

Finally, our emotional states can turn the volume of pain up or down. Feelings and thoughts associated with pain can bring on those pain feelings and even amplify them. So the issue is, if your pain continues for a long time, long after the tissue damage is healed, there is more maintaining that pain than your physical state.  It is the processing of that pain that needs to be addressed, not the physical issues in the body.  And medication doesn’t fix that processing. Thus, the medicating of this type of chronic pain isn’t effective.

Different approaches to chronic pain are needed such as learning to turn down the dial on pain through regulating emotions and using pain helping behaviors. Taking a pill won’t stop your pain when the pain is chronic and tissue damaged is healed. So why do we do? It may be all we know what to do to stop the pain. It may be we want an easy fix. Or it may be, we aren’t aware of the complexities of pain treatment that require a different mindset to dealing with chronic pain.

 

 

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