Chapter 7-1: The Early Pain Years

As the days turned cooler Bob turned to icepacks and heat to soothe his neck at the end of his workday. Because perception and tolerance of pain vary widely from individual to individual, pain is difficult to define and describe. Essentially, pain is the way your brain interprets information about a particular unpleasant sensation or complex of sensations that causes mild to severe physical discomfort and emotional distress and typically results from an injury or disease.

Information or "signals" about this painful sensation are sent via nerve pathways to your brain. Acute pain is of short duration, usually the result of an injury, surgery or illness. Chronic pain is ongoing or recurrent pain, lasting beyond the usual course of acute illness or injury or more than three to six months, and which adversely affects the individual's well-being.

It has become clear that acute and chronic pain are processed differently in the brain. The severity and extent of chronic pain may be out of proportion to the original injury and may continue long past the period in which the damages tissue has healed.1

A simpler definition for chronic pain is pain that persists when it should not.

Chronic pain is a personal experience that cannot be measured like other problems in medicine such as a broken leg or an infection. Physical examinations, lab tests, and imaging studies such as X-rays, MRIs and CT scans often do not correlate with the patient’s symptoms. There is as yet, no medical test to measure chronic pain levels.

1. Schneider, Jennifer P., Living with Chronic Pain, Hatherleigh Press, 2009