Pain is a warning signal, moreover an unpleasant one. Everyone who experiences pain will automatically try to escape from it. So it is no wonder that pain is one of the main reasons for visits to a doctor's office, no wonder also that painkillers are the most used type of medication.
Pain is a komplex sensation, however, and not only dependent on the intensity of the pain stimulus. Various factors strongly influence how intense we perceive pain to be. This becomes understandable if we consider that all pain stimuli that act on our body are conducted to the brain as electrical signals. Only after these electrical signals arrive in the brain are they converted into pain perception and this process is influenced by many different brain regions. Thus every pain perception takes place in the brain, and not at the body location where we feel the pain.
Factors that influence pain perception are:
-Emotions (anger, sadness, happiness, depression etc.)
-Expectation (e.g. 'This will hurt like hell, I will not be able to bear it')
-Meaning given to the pain (e.g.'This pain is ruining my life completely')
-Attention (e.g. distraction from the pain or paying close attention to the pain)
Research has indicated for example that even very short-lasting sad mood that was triggered by listening to a sad song made people to perceive pain caused by heat as more intense.
Especially in chronic pain (pain that lasts several months) pain perception can become independent of pain stimuli at the location where we feel the pain. Moreover, changes in how we use the painful body region, e.g. in chronic backpain, tend to contribute to continued pain. Movements and postures aimed at avoiding pain may actually lead to muscle tension and increased stress on other body regions. People suffering from chronic pain may also find themselves in a pattern of imbalanced activity levels: on days where the pain is 'bad' they may extremely reduce activities in order to reduce pain, on days they feel good they may try to do too much resulting in increased pain the next day.These imbalanced activity levels can in this way further contribute to the pain. Chronic pain often also lead sufferers to give up activities that they used to enjoy (e.g. work, sports, socializing, playing with kids etc.): Not suprisingly this opens the door to low mood.
Of course medication can play a role in the treatment of pain. However, the use of painkillers is more useful in the treatment of acute pain, i.e. short-lasting pain, while in chronic pain unwanted side-effects of the painkillers may strat to play a bigger role. Surprisingly, the frequent use of certain pain-killers e.g. for headache can even result in headaches as a side-effect of the medication.
Even in short-lasting acute pain medication is sometimes not an option, e.g. during pregnancy or if you have allergies against that type of medication.
It has been very well-documented that hypnosis can substantially reduce pain perception. Some people who can experience hypnosis very intensely can even undergo surgery pain-free just using hypnosis. Even people that - like the majority of us - experience hypnosis moderately intensely can use hypnosis and self-hypnosis to achieve a substantial reducation in pain levels. More and more hypnosis is being used in the treatment of migraines, chronic pain of joints and back and various other chronic and acute pain problems as well as during dental treatment.
In chronic pain cognitive-behavioural therapy has also been demonstrated to influence pain levels and mood positively. For many chronic pain sufferers it is an empowereing experience to learn techniques that allow them to influence pain perception by themselves.