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Pain: What is My Body Trying to Tell Me?

What is pain?
Pain is an unpleasant sensation both physically and emotionally that links to tissue damage. The body reacts in order to prevent further tissue damage. People feel pain when specific nerves called nociceptors detect tissue damage and send signals along the spinal cord to the brain.  Pain is similar to a “check engine” light in a car that gives us information that something is potentially wrong. The car will still drive, but there may be more problems down the road if we ignore it.

​Feeling pain doesn’t always mean something is seriously wrong. For example, when you stub your toe or hit your leg on the edge of a couch, you may form a bruise which will hurt and tell your brain that you are in pain/have a serious injury when you don’t. Pain is a protective mechanism that alerts us about potential or actual harm to the body’s tissue. Another example could be a sprained ankle, the nerves send information toward the brain to warn of damage. The body then will respond in order to minimize the damage/ to begin the healing process. Experience of pain depends on the strength of the stimulus, individual susceptibility and individual resistance to pain and it is individual for each person.

Pain is the one of the most common symptoms that lead a person to seek the help of a physical therapist. Physical therapists can play an important role in pain management through various types of therapies and techniques that are used daily. As experts, they will use individualized and various forms of exercise as a modality that not only promotes and restores normal function of all bodily systems, but as a primary management tool as well. Successful management of pain relies on an understanding of why someone feels pain. Through the years, pain has become a priority for physical therapists –to not only understand its causes, but also to ensure that best practices in pain management are implicated. Physical therapists are now using methods of treatment to not just focus on tissue injury, but also take into account the environment, stress, psychology, social.

Can pain tell you how serious an injury could be?
The amount of pain you feel may not be a good indicator to the seriousness of the injury meaning there could be no injury at all. Another example is pain felt today, does not mean it can be felt tomorrow.

Signs and Symptoms: 

1. Acute Pain
Acute pain is mainly due to tissue damage or injury. It is how the body alerts a person about an injury or local tissue damage. Signs and symptoms include:

  • Feeling pain for less than 3 months
  • Feeling it locally at an injured area
  • Accompanied with signs of inflammation (swelling, warmth, redness) in that certain area
  • Symptoms are aggravated when the tissue is provoked or compromised (e.g. when you touch it or stretch that certain tissue)

Example: Injured shoulder, feels pain when you put arms above head, feels relief when you lower your arms and keep by your side

2. Chronic pain
Chronic pain is recognized as pain that  persists past normal healing time and it can be mild or severe. Fight-or-flight reactions eventually stop with people with chronic pain as the sympathetic nervous system adapts to the pain stimulus. Signs and Symptoms include:

  • Feeling pain for more than 3-6 months
  • Feeling pain that is not the result of tissue damage or injury
  • Widespread
  • Unpredictable and can’t be directly related to a certain activity or movement
  • Hypersensitivity to even the slightest pain triggers
  • Accompanied by psychological factors (e.g. depression, fear, anxiety)

How is Pain Diagnosed?

There is no method to diagnose pain. Instead, physical therapists ask a series of questions to determine whether a specific physical problem is causing the pain. Questions include :

  • How long have you had it?
  • How long did it start?
  • Where do you experience the pain?
  • What activities bring it on?
  • Etc.

On top of that, they may require some form of imaging (e.g. X-rays, CT scans, MRI images) to rule out any underlying condition that could be contributing to your pain.

Can Physical Therapy Help Treat my Pain?

Yes! Physical therapy is among the safe and effective alternatives to opioids recommended by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention for managing most non-cancer related pain. Once the condition is diagnosed, they incorporate treatment methods through movement, hands-on care, exercise, and patient education.

Pain is a normal and natural part of life, but it doesn’t have to control you. Call us today for a  complementary discovery session.


Dr. Jack Wong

Next Level Physical Therapy

"We Help People Age 40+ Stay Active, Healthy & Mobile Without Relying On Pain Meds, Injections Or Surgery"