When I was first diagnosed with fibromyalgia and chronic pain, the first part of the treatment path my doctor assigned to me was taking a pain management class. She said to start treating chronic pain, I need to know how to understand it. And she’s right. Here’s how to understand chronic pain.
How to Understand Chronic Pain
The pain management class was an emotional deal for me. The instructor was a psychologist specialized in veterans with chronic pain. She explained how the body receives chronic pain physically and how the pain is resonated physically, emotionally, and mentally throughout the body. The effects pain can have on a body is not always visible, making it difficult for the people living with chronic pain, and their loved ones, how to understand chronic pain and its profound and damaging effects.
How does the body receive pain?
The body receives pain with a four step process.
- Pain is inflicted on the body.
- Nerve senses pain.
- Nerve sends pain signal to the central nervous system (the spinal cord and brain).
- The brain receives the signal for processing and action.
For more information about how the body receives pain, please read How We Feel Pain: How the Nervous System Detects and Interprets Pain by Erica Jacques, chronic pain expert.
What is the path of the pain signal?
The pains signal’s path starts at the site of the pain (i.e. hand, leg, foot), travels along the nerves to the spinal cord, and up the spinal cord to the brain.
How do chronic pain patients process pain?
When living with fibromyalgia and chronic pain, the nervous system perceives pain differently and functions abnormally. In an article by Diana Rodriguez titled Why Do We Feel Pain, she gives an accurate description of how chronic pain patients process pain:
“Normally, the central nervous system automatically inhibits unpleasant sensations like pain. But with chronic pain, the nervous system’s function is altered and becomes more sensitive to pain. The nerve cells in people with chronic pain may become so sensitive that the brain perceives even a gentle touch as pain….That means people with chronic pain physically perceive and feel pain differently — more intensely — than others.”
How does pain affect emotional and mental states?
Many emotional and mental stresses can arise from experiencing chronic pain. A person may become frustrated, irritated, sad or resentful. Depression and anxiety may develop or worsen with chronic pain.
Experiencing persistent pain may result in a lack of sleep which increases pain and other symptoms such as depression. The no sleep, more pain cycle is a vicious cycle that many chronic pain sufferers experience.
Does a pain management class help?
The pain management class I attended was a life changer for me. In the months between my diagnosis and the first day of class, it was hard to accept my diagnosis and it was even harder to cope with it. My depression, anxiety, mood swings, and emotional state were too much for me to handle because I didn’t understand what was happening to my body.
Once I understood how my body receives pain and how it deals with it, I was better equipped to deal with it.
What is the biggest struggle you have with chronic pain?