The Epidemic of Chronic Pain
The biopsychosocial model of pain
The International Association for the Study of Pain defines pain as “an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage, or described in terms of such damage.” Note the sensory (the signals our body sends to our brain) and emotional (how our brain interprets those signals) components of the pain are both always present. Our current understanding of pain is that pain is associated with threat. It is protective for our survival. When the brain has more credible evidence of danger than of safety, it produces an unpleasant response (pain) that calls us to take action in order to get out of danger, which we understand as pain. So in summary: danger = pain, safety = no pain. Seems pretty simple…right?
Acute pain is mostly driven by the sensory signals that come from our body. Imagine for example, if you twisted your ankle. Your brain would send an immediate response to your ankle telling it to get out of that position. You may have some residual signals coming from the tissues due to inflammation, and your brain may tell you to avoid putting weight on the ankle or wear an ankle brace for a few days. The key is that your tissues are sending signals to your brain, your brain is receiving them in proportion to what they should be, and your brain is making appropriate decisions based on that information. This type of pain is adaptive, or beneficial to our well-being.