The Science of Pain
Acute Pain versus Chronic Pain
Pain is a symptom of an injury or illness – but chronic pain is something that occurs for millions of Americans. For example, acute pain occurs if a teen were to break an ankle playing sports. This same teen would get an x-ray that would identify the broken bone, the ankle would be put in a cast, and the teen would be told to stay off the leg to allow the bone to heal. Chronic pain occurs after this – after the bone has healed but the pain continues. Most doctors do not understand why the teen is still complaining of pain.
The cause of the pain has moved from the ankle to the neural circuits in the brain. New pain circuits have formed that keep the pain active and the origin is now called central pain. Research has shown that the most effective ways of changing these central pain circuits and reducing pain are not with medications, but with creative activities with the mind and body. We also know that support from understanding peers helps with the healing process.
Now recognized as its own disease, chronic pain is the experience of an over-active nervous system rather than just a symptom. Since it is a neurological condition that occurs primarily in the brain, but affects different parts of the body, the traditional medical model that most physicians use does not typically work for teenagers and young adults with chronic pain.
Rather, modern science has shown that strengthening the mind/body connection plus social support (also known as the “biopsychosocial” model) are the tools needed to change chronic pain.
- Common chronic pain conditions include fibromyalgia, recurring stomach aches, migraines, frequent headaches, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), arthritis, cancer pain, Crohn’s disease, CRPS, post-injury persistent pain, and many more.