“An unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage, or described in terms of such damage” (International Association for the Study of Pain , 2017). Until recently, it was generally accepted that pain occurred as a direct result of tissue damage, most commonly in response to an injury or illness. Current research suggests that pain is complicated. Rather than simply alerting us to an area of injury or illness within our bodies, it is now considered to be a warning system, an alarm that lets us know when our nervous system (our brain, spinal cord and peripheral nerves) decides that something we are doing might cause us harm. This means that not only can we experience pain when something is truly wrong, but we may also experience pain before any injury or illness has actually occurred.
So why might our bodies perceive an activity to be dangerous? Pain is both a sensory (related to physical nerves relaying sensory information to the nervous system) and an emotional experience. This does not mean that you are making your pain up, or that it is “all in your head”. Previous experiences, negative emotions, being sleep deprived and even not drinking enough water can all increase the likelihood of an individual experiencing pain, and can also increase the intensity of the pain you feel. In the case of a recent injury, these factors can often occur in conjunction with actual tissue damage. However, when pain goes on past the time an injury would be expected to be fully healed, this is more likely to be due to the heightened awareness of your nervous system interpreting previously non-threatening activities as potentially dangerous.
So what can we do about it? Ensuring we have enough sleep, hydrate and eat well can reduce the intensity and frequency of the pain you experience. Reducing stress and increasing general physical activity are also well supported methods of reducing pan. For many people, it may be necessary to utilize the support and guidance of a healthcare practitioner in re-training and desensitizing your nervous system so that is no longer perceives normal activities as potential threats. Most commonly, this will involve gentle, graded exposure to painful movements and activities through exercises.