A Look at the Most Common of Human Ailments
Saint Augustine once called physical pain the “greatest evil” known to man. Think back as early as you can remember, and you can probably remember episodes of pain involving scraped knees and twisted ankles, among many others. While almost everyone can experience physical pain (more on that later), most of us don’t know a lot about the nature of pain. Experiencing physical pain is hardwired into our biology, but not all types of pain are the same. Since almost all physical therapy treatment deals with pain, let’s take a moment to demystify the nature of the beast.
Why We Feel Pain
“At the most basic level,” states the Mayo Clinic, “pain begins when particular nerve endings are stimulated.” In other words, pain is a type of signal, our brain’s way of communicating that something is wrong. The world is full of dangers capable of causing us serious, irreparable harm, and when we feel pain, we know to leave those dangers alone. A small percentage of people suffer from a congenital insensitivity to pain. While that sounds like a superpower in theory, it’s a nightmare in practice. If you can’t feel pain, you have to be constantly mindful not to do something that could permanently injure or even kill you.
2 Types of Pain
Pain can be categorized in many ways, but one of the most useful distinctions is between acute and chronic pain. Acute pain occurs from an injury and subsides once that injury heals. In cases of acute pain, our brain tells us that part of our body is physiologically wounded and in need of repair. If we sprain an ankle, we know to avoid walking on it because it hurts to do so. Treating acute pain often involves protecting and encouraging healing in the injured area while strengthening the surrounding muscles for added support.
Chronic pain, which lasts indefinitely and can lack a clear cause, is a murkier subject. Chronic pain is undoubtedly real, but diagnosing and treating it requires more guesswork. Sometimes it is the result of an underlying condition, such as arthritis. In others, it is the result of damage to the nerves, a condition
known as neuropathy.
No matter how much or what type of physical pain you suffer, physical therapy can likely help get you on the path to feeling less of it.