How to Manage Pain

Ms Nonie Carr - Psychologist shares her insights into how to manage pain - particularly persistent pain.

Persistent or chronic pain is unpleasant, and can create significant distress for those experiencing it. It is a difficult thing to treat and sometimes results on a merry-go-round of specialist appointments and medication. But maybe it doesn't need to be like this.

This video is a very good explanation of how pain is experienced. Pain is our body's warning system and alerts us to danger. If we touch a hot kettle our sensory nerves immediately send a message to our spine and our reflex nerves act to pull your hand back away from the kettle. The message is then passed to the part of your brain that processes sensory stimuli and the message is interpreted as "Ow, that is hot!" This process occurs very quickly and we perceive this as a response that is triggered after our brain gets the message.

Pain is there to keep us safe, to protect us from threat or danger; it is all about survival. Pain is an important survival mechanism and we need to preserve it.

Sometimes, however the pain message is repeated in our brain and we perceive the pain to continue far beyond the time when the sensory nerves are being stimulated. This is when we might experience persistent or chronic pain. Your experience of pain is very real, the stimulus that created the pain response in the first place is very real, but the danger has passed. 

Managing pain can become a difficult dance of medication and physical therapy. It can sometimes be helpful to rethink the pain we are experiencing...

  • Is this pain functional?

  • Is the cause of the pain still present?

  • To what extent are the current treatment modalities helpful?

  • Has my pain changed at all over time?

  • Is there a cognitive component to my pain now?

I wonder if altering how you think about your pain might create a different experience of that pain. When you are in a hurry to get somewhere and you stub your toe, you might notice the immediate pain. But we might then refocus our attention on the rush to get to our destination and the experience of the pain in our toe subsides. If we are not in a hurry and we focus on the pain in our toe we are more likely to notice the throbbing and the experience of that pain becomes more intense.

Mindfulness, among other strategies, can be helpful in managing pain. Mindfulness allows us to learn the ability to notice, accept and let go of thoughts and sensations that are not functional or helpful in the moment. Mindfulness can help us to learn to notice and sit with an uncomfortable experience or sensation. Mindfulness training can teach us to tolerate persistent pain in such a way that allows us to experience pain from a different perspective. It helps us to accept that the pain is there and to continue on with what we want to do. Please note that mindfulness is not about suppressing or avoiding pain, it's about thinking about it and approaching it from a different perspective.

~ To book an appointment with Ms Nonie Carr gives our team a call on (03) 9882-8874.

Post was originally published on Enhance Life Psychology 3 August 2017