What Is Pain Science?


On or facebook group last week I was asking what people might be interested in for content. Someone responded more about pain science. Here is a link to the group if you are interested in checking it out.  Eagle County Sports Injury Group

The person asking was a physical therapist. So, to the average person the term pain science may not mean a lot. So over the next few weeks I will intersperse some posts about pain and “pain science” here. Today I will try to define it, although it may mean different things to different people. I will say what it means to me.

Most simply pain science is the science of pain. You might think how much science is there about pain? You damage something or injure it and it hurts. When it heals or I get straightened out then the pain goes away.

Well it turns out there is more to it than that. The International Association for the Study of Pain defines it this way. “An unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage, or described in terms of such damage.

A couple of things to note. One is that pain can occur with actual or potential damage. So it is not as straight forward as damage equals pain. The other thing to notice is that pain is an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience. That brings in a lot. It means we are dealing with biological, psychological, and social processes. That means we have lots of areas of science that are contributing to pain science.

When I think of trying to understand pain science it takes understanding in things like biology, structure and mechanics, neuroscience, psychology, kinesiology, sociology and communicating with people. Lots of stuff. Pain science isn’t a thing you do to fix people. It is a way to understand pain and to help people understand how to move forward with their pain.

So to me pain science involves:

  • Knowing when to push something and when to rest
  • Understanding all the complex factors that affect your pain other than an injury
  • Understanding how pain can change a person’s life
  • How to communicate with people so they are heard and can work toward their goals
  • Knowing how getting back to life despite pain can sometimes be helpful
  • Helping people understand what they can do to manage their own pain
  • Understanding the pros and cons of various orthopedic procedures in relation to pain
  • And knowing that as much as we think we know about pain, its just the tip of the iceberg.

When we think about pain science, what we are really talking about his how we work as humans. We are dealing with every part of our system. Our muscles, bones, ligaments, tendons and joints, yes. But also our nervous system, brain, and identity. We are trying to understand how humanity works in a nutshell.

I hope this helps, and over the next few weeks we will talk a bit more about how pain works as far as we know now. It will keep changing. Its always interesting and exciting, at least to me.

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