What Is Pain?

By: Caroline Graydon

What Is Pain?

Pain is an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage.

Pain is not just a physical sensation. It is influenced by attitudes, beliefs, personality and social factors, and can affect emotional and mental wellbeing.

Two people may have the same pain condition, however, their experience of living with pain can be vastly different.

There are different types of pain Acute pain which lasts for a short time. This type of pain acts as a warning to the body to seek help and Chronic pain that’s lasts beyond the time expected for healing. This type of pain can exist without a clear reason at all. Although chronic pain can be a symptom of other diseases, it can also be a disease in its own right, caused or contributed to by changes in your nervous system.

What is Chronic Pain?

If your pain has lasted beyond the time expected for healing following surgery, trauma or other condition—usually three months—then it may be considered a chronic illness, such as a migraine, osteoporosis, arthritis and other musculoskeletal ailments are well recognised chronic diseases.

However, there are other chronic pain conditions that may not be as common or well known. They include conditions related to nerve pain, pelvic pain, abdominal pain, facial pain and persistent post-surgical pain.

Acute pain can transition into chronic pain if it is untreated or poorly treated. This happens when changes occur within the nervous system, which makes the body more sensitive to pain and can create sensations of pain even without external pain stimuli. For example, people can feel pain from a breeze or clothes touching their skin. This is called pain sensitisation, such as pain related to fibromyalgia.

The longer pain remains untreated, the greater the risk of the body becoming sensitised to pain, and the pain becoming chronic. Therefore timely and effective treatment of acute pain is essential to prevent transition to chronic pain.

If you are concerned about any long-term pain you may be experiencing please visit your doctor.

Painful Facts

Pain is the most common reason that people seek medical help—yet it remains one of the most neglected and misunderstood areas of healthcare.

One in five Australians lives with chronic pain including adolescents and children. This prevalence rises to one in three people over the age of 65.

One in five GP consultations involves a patient with chronic pain and almost 5% report severe, disabling chronic pain.

The prevalence of chronic pain is projected to increase as Australia's population ages.

Social Issues

As chronic pain is invisible, sufferers can feel misunderstood and stigmatised.

People with chronic pain can lose their status within the community and experience discrimination in many areas of their lives. Most insidious of all is their loss of voice.

Common challenges faced by people with chronic pain are decreased enjoyment of normal activities, loss of function, role change and relationship difficulties.

Mental Health

One in five Australian adults with severe or very severe pain may also suffer depression

One in three Australian adults with severe or very severe pain may have high or very high levels of psychological distress.

There is evidence of high rates of generalised anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and substance misuse.

There is evidence of high levels of suicide ideation, plans and attempts in people with chronic pain, and physical health problems have been implicated in 21% of suicides in Australia.

If you need to speak to someone now, please call Lifeline 13 11 14.

Common Forms of Pain

Chronic pain is very complex and everyone experiences it differently—there is definitely no one-size-fits-all symptom nor treatment.

It can be associated with surgery, trauma or other condition, or it can exist without a clear reason.

It can be a symptom of other diseases, or it can be a stand-alone condition.

It might show up in a scan or test, or there may be no evidence of its existence.

It can occur anywhere in the body, or at multiple sites.

One person can have several forms of pain, or just one.

It can be daily, or recurrent (such as a migraine).

Who Does Pain Affect?

Although chronic pain can affect anyone, there are some groups for whom particular support is needed.

Chronic pain also affects children, adolescents and young adults.

Multicultural groups may have cultural beliefs that can impact upon the chronic pain experience.

Elite sports people tend to have a higher pain tolerance but are also at greater risk of chronic pain conditions.

Older people and those with a disability have the highest rates of chronic pain in our community.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities at higher risk of living with painful conditions.

Chronic pain is the main reason people of working age drop out of the workforce.

People who live in rural areas are more likely to have chronic pain than those who live in major cities.
Musculoskeletal pain is one of the most common reasons for medical discharge from the armed forces.

And not forgetting Moms, Dads, Aunty, Uncle, Brother, Sister or Cousins

Pain Cycle

Reference: Pain Australia

Disclaimer:  The views expressed here are solely those of the author in her private capacity and do not in any way represent the views of the Medical Centre, or any other provider within the clinic.

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