Seeking a Life Without Chronic Pain

2009-04-18 | |
Last updated: 2019-11-24

While most of us certainly take no enjoyment in pain and will take whatever steps to eliminate it, pain is not our enemy. Rather, it serves as a means to allow our bodies to tell us that we are doing or have done something that is harmful to ourselves. Pain also tells us when something in our body is being damaged whether by a failure of the body itself or by injury. Although experiencing pain is minimally not pleasant, it is a rather effective means of inhibiting destructive behaviors. As a result it is part of what has ensured the survival of humankind through the ages.

To understand the importance of pain, we need look no further than to the development of children born with congenital analgesia, or the inability to feel pain. In such cases, these children act without the normal inhibitions that pain normally provides. Most children are drawn to fire. However, most will quickly learn that fire hurts after experiencing a small burn. Even a reminded from their parents of the pain they have experienced in the past is enough.

Instead, children with congenital analgesia will happily play with fire and be burned. They will equally climb and jump from a tree if left unguarded only to break bones or worse. Without the ability to feel pain, these children lack the fundamental feedback mechanisms to ensure their own health.

When Pain Serves No Purpose

Although pain is extremely important, there are times at which it occurs, yet fails to serve any useful function. This is particularly true when pain occurs for those with fibromyalgia, neuralgia or forms of nerve damage. In these cases, the firing of the nerves to indicate pain does not protect, but is only the result of the condition.

Pain Resulting from Aging

In a similar situation, the pains experienced as a result of aging serve no real useful purpose. The pains exist because our evolution never accounted for the wear we endure from aging. Instead, pain generation by our bodies simply continues to tell us that our joints are rubbing or our muscles are strained. This is despite the fact that we can do little about it.

Pain from Degenerative Conditions

One last important area in which pain serves no purpose is in the chronic pain experienced by those with many degenerative diseases and cancer. In these cases, our bodies continue to tell us that something is very wrong. Unfortunately, people with these conditions have no ability of the body to correct the problem. The issue here is that the brain is missing a key ability. It. does not have the skill to recognize that the pain is no longer serving a useful function and can be ignored.

All this unnecessary pain has significant effects on those who experience it. Chronic pain causes fatigue, interferes with sleep and can cause depression and anxiety in many sufferers. Some studies have found rewiring of the brain circuitry in those with chronic pain. Chronic pain sufferers will often have difficulty even leading normal day-to-day lives. From the view of the patient, the pain does nothing to aid them in improving their condition. From the view of the body, the expression of pain is no longer simply unnecessary, but is in fact destructive to overall bodily health.

Seeking Options for Managing Chronic Pain

To combat chronic pain, the roughly 20 to 30% of the population that suffer from it will turn to many options. These options range from forms of exercise to alternative therapies such as acupressure and acupuncture, to both off the shelf and prescription forms of painkillers. At the most extreme it includes, the use of opiates and the medical use of marijuana to manage the pain. Even Botox is used to treat chronic pain.

The effectiveness and side effects of each approach varies considerably. Different people will use varying approaches based on their level of pain, the level of relief and the tolerance to side effects. In addition, risks of addiction and the duration of effectiveness are also important factors that affect efforts for reducing chronic pain.

Reducing Our Awareness of Pain

With chronic pain being such a debilitator, there are two areas of research that are important to pain management. One finding from a few years ago was that those playing immersive video games were less aware of their pain. This finding is important because it suggests that there are ways to cause the brain to feel less pain. Simply through a form of training or distraction, perceived pain intensity reduces. The obvious benefit of this is the potential for reduction in use of drugs with negative side effects.

Reducing Pain by Delivering Medication Differently

Another very recent finding that is important was the development of a very slow release anesthetic by the Children’s Hospital Boston. The creators of the specialized fat particle capable of slow, safe release of a painkiller suggest that it could release anesthetic for durations as long as months after a single injection. This development is very important because it could allow the minimal required dose for pain control to be administered over long periods.

This would minimize toxicity to the body and side effects to the patient. More importantly, it could allow chronic pain sufferers the ability to become functioning, happy members of society. Eliminating the daily and often hourly battle against pain could cause significant improvements for some people.


While pain itself is not our enemy, to those with chronic pain, the persistent suffering is likely to cause a difference of opinion. When the need to reduce the pain overrides most other daily activities and impedes the ability to stay healthy, it is no longer serving its intended purpose. At that stage, it needs to be turned off. It is in these situations that pain, the messenger, needs to be told that they have been heard, but is no longer telling us anything useful.

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Category: General Health, Medical Research, Symptom Information

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