Why we should view pain as a disease
acute pain | chronic pain | disease | inflammation | injury | Nervous system | trauma

July 18, 2022

Confused Doctor

This post is the second in a series of 4 posts about chronic pain. To read the other posts in the series use the links below:

What is chronic pain?, published July 11, 2022

How emotions influence pain, available on July 25, 2022

New approaches to pain management, available August 1, 2022

Historically, pain as been a problem often ignored by the medical system. Healthcare professionals knew it existed, were helpless to address it, so pain was downplayed as simply the consequence of trauma to the body. If you have ever had surgery, you may remember a surgical nurse asking you what level of pain you wanted to be in after surgery. “None” was not an option because “You just had surgery! You should expect some pain!”

But, what if we began to address pain as a disease and had an expectation that chronic pain should be cured?  One researcher, Clifford Woolf, a neurobiologist at Children’s Hospital in Boston has studied pain for more than 40 years. Woolf believes chronic pain is not simply a symptom of an injury to the body, but a disease caused by a malfunctioning nervous system. In Woolf’s research, he analyzed the activity of the spinal cord when he briefly applied heat to skin. With the heat application, the neurons in the spinal cord began firing. Which we could assume was the nervous system responding, sending pain signals to the brain indicating the risk of damage to the skin.

Nervous System

However, Woolf also found that after the section of skin had been exposed to the heat several times, to the point it became inflamed (the body’s response to injury), the neurons in the spinal cord would fire when the section of, now healed, skin was touched. This suggests the skin became more sensitive, and would begin sending pain signals to the brain, anticipating damage when there was no heat. Researchers have replicated this outcome several times since Woolf’s first experiment, and we now call this finding “central sensitization”.

Central sensitization proves that the nervous system can malfunction and become hypersensitive after an injury. Resulting in pain signals being sent to the pain, long after the original trauma or injury has healed. Or, the pain transmission system simply malfunctioning on its own, for example, in fibromyalgia or neuropathic pain as a result of chemotherapy.

Any information provided about medical matters is purely educational and the author is not a medical professional and is not recommending any specific intervention for any specific person or giving medical advice. Please consult your own medical provider for information about your own situation

This blog post is for informational purposes only and does not create any type of therapeutic relationship. For specific assistance, please consult your own medical and/or mental health provider.



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