Our Perception of Pain

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People have pain for all sorts of reasons. Sometimes it’s because of an injury, other times it’s a result of repetitive overuse. Sometimes we don’t know why someone’s in pain. It’s important to note that pain is a perception that our brain experiences. Did you know that the way we experience pain can be affected by other variables in our lives?

Our brain’s perception of pain can change with an alteration in different factors, such as when our bodies get warmer or colder. An increase in stress or anxiety can exacerbate our pain. Perhaps a particular movement similar to how we injured ourselves excites our pain response. Even our immune system and cardiovascular system can have an effect on the way we perceive pain.

Our bodies become sensitive to pain once we become injured, or once we hurt. We have a heightened awareness of this negative feeling and we almost come to expect it whenever we have an experience that reminds us that we “should” be having pain. However, sometimes when a pain becomes chronic, our pain threshold lowers and even the smallest of stimuli can be perceived as painful.

Managing pain is a complex process that your therapist can walk you through. By understanding why you might have painful sensations, you can begin working to push the boundaries of your pain. We can engage in meaningful activities that will allow us to acknowledge the pain, and with our new understanding, push through the pain in a way we know is better for our health. Simply put, once we know that we aren’t truly damaging ourselves, we feel better about using the part of our body that hurts.

In occupational therapy, we strive to help people be as independent as possible with whatever is meaningful to them. Pain is often the largest barrier to independence. By allowing a person to methodically and positively work through their pain, people can begin to enjoy their passions once again.

We can safely probe our pain in order to retrain our brain’s perception of it. Or, we can collaborate together on how to accomplish activities in a different way that maximizes our satisfaction, and gets us back to what we like to do. Whatever the cause, we can’t let pain stop us from living.

Sam Penkala, O.T.R.L., is an occupational therapist at MidMichigan Health.

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