Papercut and colored pencil art by Sheryl Aronson X 5

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Pain Does Not Equal Harm

Our perception of what pain is greatly affects our experience of pain.  The way pain is meant to function in our bodies is as a warning sign that there is danger, and we need to take action.  It is very beneficial if you have a stone in your shoe.  Pain tells you to get it out before you walk farther.  Without pain, you might leave it there, not realizing there was a problem until you took your shoe off later and found a hole in your foot.  That is why people with decreased sensation from peripheral neuropathy and people born without this pain mechanism need to be very vigilant about monitoring their bodies.
Chronic pain is a malfunction of the system, and has no functional purpose.  It would be nice if we could say, "Pain go away, I don't need you", and it would.  (That is for a future post.)  Since it isn't that easy, we need to find other ways to cope with the pain.  One that I am working on is changing my perception of pain.
Pain does not equal harm.  In other words, I have pain, but that does not mean that there is any damage occurring.  I recently had surgery on my hand for trigger thumb.  I kept the big bandage wrapped around my hand for the first three days to remind myself to be careful, and to prevent damage to the newly cut tissues.  Now I have a waterproof band-aid on it, I use my hand, but continue to be careful how I use it.  Several times a day I get pain, from the bruising and the still healing incision.  I remind myself that this pain does not mean that any damage is occurring, and this makes the pain easier to ignore.
Please don't get me wrong.  The pain is real, and sometimes it takes awhile for it to calm down.  Sometimes I have other pain that does not calm down for hours or days, and I know there are many of you out there with pain that never calms down.  I am not minimizing the pain, or saying if you ignore it, it will go away (I wish!) 
Think about it this way.  Your dog barks to go outside.  You know if you don't let him out, you will have to clean up the mess he makes on the floor.  He also barks when someone walks by the house, if kids are playing nearby, if it sees a cat, etc.  You don't jump up every time he barks, you learn to differentiate which barks you need to respond to, and which you can ignore.
Now transfer that thinking to the pain.  You sense the pain, and ask yourself, "Is this pain telling me something important that I need to respond to, or is it just barking its head off for no known reason, as chronic pain tends to do?"  If it is just barking its head off, responding isn't going to make it better, but it will keep you focused on the pain.  I can't speak for you, but I would rather focus on other things.
Give it a try.  If your pain is just barking its head off for no known reason, and there is no need to respond to it, don't.  Notice it, but don't focus on it.  Focus your mind elsewhere.  Try to tune the pain out, like you would a barking dog.  Let me know how it works for you.  Give it a few tries if it doesn't work the first time  A change in how you perceive your pain takes some practice.

1 comment:

  1. Most people don't understand much about chronic pain. Sharing your story will certainly help them gain some insight into what you're going through. If you've got it, you really have to learn to cope and fight back. It's not always that easy but that's what you have to do.