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Understanding Your Pain

By Pauilne Tran-Garcia, PT, DPT

Pain is a complex problem that has many facets that can heavily impact an individual’s life. It can impact mental health, energy levels, and limit participation in even simple daily tasks. Having a better understanding of pain can help a person feel more in control and take better actions to overcome or manage pain.

Pain Receptors and How They Work

Pain is our body’s way to inform us of harmful circumstances. Our body has hundreds of miles worth of nerves and some of them are responsible for detecting pain. A harmful stimulus that can cause pain and is interpreted by the brain (our main processing system) elicits a cascade of production of chemicals that combat pain. If our brain is processing pain for a long time (chronic pain), then our system can become hypersensitive and be triggered by even small events/stimuli. 

Types of Pain

If an individual is experiencing pain, it is helpful for the physical therapist to know what type of pain it is. If you’re not sure how to describe it, see below for some sample descriptors.

Type Description Common Conditions
Nerve Electrical shock, buzzing, numbness, or tingling Sciatica (link blog post), carpal tunnel syndrome
Muscle Tension, pulling, achy, sore Muscle strain, overuse, tendinitis
Bone/Joint Deep, achy, sore Arthritis, fracture
Visceral Constant, unrelieved by any activity/position, pressure, squeezing, cramping Referred pain from internal organs
Circulatory (arteries, veins) Throbbing, tingling, cold Deep vein thrombosis (DVT)

Pain Intensity

The intensity of pain is also important to describe on a spectrum of 0 to 10. 0 is used to describe “no pain” and 10 is used to describe “worst imaginable pain; need to go to the hospital.” Pain can vary throughout the day depending on what activities have been performed, time of day, weather, and what has been done to make the pain better. Sharing the fluctuations of best, worst, and current pain with your therapist is helpful so they can understand your condition better. 

How Pain Affects Mental Health

Pain can be frustrating because of how it limits an individual from participating in social or personal activities. The more it creates barriers in daily activities, the more frustration can build and negatively affect mental health. It is important to have a support system to help you through the recovery including family, friends, and a strong health team. Building short-term goals can help an individual feel accomplished but also establish a solid care plan on how to address pain.

How Pain Can Affect Energy Levels

When an individual experiences pain, the body creates chemicals that combat the cause which can feel draining. In addition, a person’s energy level can decrease from becoming sedentary to avoid painful activities. The person growing a pattern of being inactive can lead to early-onset fatigue and reduced energy levels during activities. At times, the pain can interfere with the ability to achieve restful sleep which makes it difficult to replenish energy sources. 

What to Do About Your Pain

Consult with your local physical therapist or doctor to discuss your options. Physical therapy is the best option for conservative care because of the long-term outcomes it provides. At Fyzical Therapy & Balance Centers - Forest Grove, we provide 1:1 individualized care. We focus on providing resources and strategies to empower our patients to become independent and achieve their highest physical potential. Contact our office and mention this blog post to learn more.

Pauline Tran-Garcia PT, DPT


Disclaimer This blog is provided for informational purposes only. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.