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Understand your Pain



An unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage (IASP). It has the physical (e.g. stabbing, burning, twisting, tearing) and the emotional (e.g. nauseating, sickening, terrifying) components.


Types of Pain


Acute - Pain that is normally associated with tissue damage e.g. ankle sprain, muscle tear/strain, acute disk prolapse, trauma. It usually lasts a few days to about 3 months. Acute pain is the body's protective mechanism to prevent further tissue damage. 


Chronic/ Persistent Pain: Chronic pain exists beyond expected tissue healing time. Pain lasting over 3 months is considered chronic pain. It can occur as part of another disease process or it can be a disease itself. It can at times present for no apparent reason.


Cancer Pain: This pain occurs with cancer disease processes or as a side effect of cancer treatment. 

Pain is 100% produced by the brain. 

The brain receives messages from the body tissues about a story of potential danger. The brain then combines these messages with other information, sometimes known or past similar events. If the brain decides the messages are a threat to the body, it produces PAIN. When acute, pain is the body's warning system to protect body tissues.. 

Pain is an experience, it affects different people differently. So it is best described by what you say it is. 

Below are some on the factors that influence the pain experience. 

• Attitudes

• Beliefs

• Personalities

• Social Factors

• Emotional and mental well-being

When pain persists beyond normal tissue healing times, it becomes COMPLEX. Dealing with persistent pain can become a vicious cycle. This can cause a lot of grief for the sufferers. Not only the physical effects but chronic pain can also lead to a great deal of stress. Feelings on helplessness. Excessive worry and fear. Failed treatments. Increased costs of treatment.  Reduced work or even loss of work due to impairment hence loss of income. Pain can lead to isolation, you can't go to events or functions with friends, family or colleagues because of the pain. You cannot do the things you used to enjoy doing anymore. Thinking about that hike on the weekend with your best friend is not an option anymore because the pain has taken over. Your posture changes. You start to limp, slouch. At times even the thought of walking to the bus stop is unbearable. 

These are some of the things people dealing with persistent pain go through on a day to day basis leading to reduced quality of life and increased stress. 

What to do when suffering from chronic pain

When it comes to chronic pain, the issue is less about tissue damage or structural changes in the body but more about the sensitivity of the brain and the nervous system hence it is fitting to retrain the brain and the nerves to figure out what is going on and potentially find the solution. 

The best approach is the whole person approach. Recognizing things that affect your nervous system, mood and thoughts can be helpful in retraining the brain. The brain creates pain from information that it receives e.g. what was happening when the pain developed. Was there a significant event that occurred or was going on when the pain started? Some chronic pain sufferers can link a certain incident, a worrying period of their lives and the worsening of their pain. 

A more active approach to pain management is necessary in helping to retrain the brain. Physical activity or exercise can help reduce pain by producing chemicals that assist in modulation of pain. Therefore getting up off the couch and going for a walk can be very helpful in managing pain symptoms for chronic pain sufferers and most importantly in retraining your brain that your body is safe. 

  • Mindfulness and relaxation

  • Eat well and hydrate – including reducing alcohol and smoking cessation

  • Build meaningful relationships

  • Do more of what you LOVE and ENJOY

  • Connect with your support network

  • Spend time with family and friends

  • Adequate sleep

Simple Key things to Remember


Part of retraining the brain towards managing pain is recognise and protect yourself (brain) from triggers that over-sensitise your brain. This could be learning how to deal with those unhelpful thoughts that leave you all stressed out and not wanting to leave your couch. OR removing yourself from emotionally toxic environments or situations. The helpful tips listed above can be useful here. Sometimes is as simple as distracting your mind from an unhelpful situation by doing something else, something you enjoy, a relaxation exercise. Do this until that edge /or situation passes. 

For example: taking deep breaths when you are really really angry with someone or about something helps calm you down. The deep breaths help distract you from the edge of acting out that anger.

Some helpful tips:



Motion is lotion. Movement is key in retraining your nervous system to trust itself. When suffering from chronic pain, it is important to know that your body is safe. Your tissues have healed and PAIN DOES NOT ALWAYS MEAN HARM. For some people, reassurance is all they need to get up and get moving. Some people may need a little bit more help to get started. Pain medication can be that help to get you which which can be tapered off off as you get more confident and stronger in your movement. 

Some helpful tips:


It is important to understand that managing a complex condition like chronic pain can be a long and delicate process. The outcomes are dependent on the individual. As a chronic pain sufferer, patience is vital. You have to know that, there will be set back along the way. You will have flare-ups. Some days will be better than the others. But know that your body is safe. You are safe. Flare-ups are normal, They are part of the process. Don't let them dishearten. 

Some helpful tips: 

  • Do more of what you LOVE and ENJOY

  • Spend time with family and friends

  • Go back to sport, take up sport, start dancing, go for walks around the block/on the beach, fix up that veggie patch you have been avoiding for a while

  • Mindfulness and relaxation

  • Get back to/continue doing what you love

  • Know that your injury is unlikely to get worse

  • Connect with your support network

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