Understanding Pain: The 3 levels of Protection

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All of us have felt physical pain at one point in our lives, but what is pain exactly? In this article, we attempt to break down the complexity of pain and aid you in understanding pain. Firstly, it is important to acknowledge that all pain is real. Pain acts as a safety buffer to prevent us from injury but it does not necessarily mean that there is tissue damage. Pain is meant to be protective, it is not meant to be destructive.

Understanding Pain as a Safety Buffer

understanding pain

Imagine yourself standing on the edge of a cliff – in this scenario, falling over the cliff signifies danger. In that care, how far would you stand from the edge of the cliff to keep yourself safe? The distance that you keep away from the edge of the cliff is the amount of safety buffer you have to the action that you perceive as danger. You will probably be standing a distance away from the edge of the cliff, but what is the actual distance? Will you be standing a foot away or miles away?

What would determine the distance that you keep between yourself and the edge of the cliff? What is your comfortable amount of safety zone? Understanding pain starts with knowing that there are three levels of protection when it comes to pain: Inflammation, Sprint & Splint, and Hormones.

Pain Level 1 Protection- Inflammation

This is where inflammation occurs to aid in healing of the tissue. For example, when we first sprain your ankle while missing a step, the ankle will swell and become warm to touch, painful to move. This encourages you to reduce movements and rest which then aids the body in healing.

Inflammation is a part of healing., In general, like mild strain/ sprain symptoms will be less and more manageable after three days to a week. . However, if it persists after a week, it is advisable to seek help from the Dr or physiotherapist to examine if the healing process is delayed and intervention needs to be administered to aid healing. 

Level 2 Protection- Sprint and Splint

Our experience when encountering danger determines how we would feel in the next similar episode. For example, if you sprain your ankle while missing a step, you will be cautious when negotiating stairs. For some of us, we may fear negotiating stairs. This is because pain, is an emotion, as fear is an emotion. It reminds us of how we initially got the injury, thus instilling the fear when we reattempt an activity that led to the injury. This is because pain, is an emotion, as fear is an emotion. It reminds us of how we initially got the injury, thus instilling the fear when we reattempt an activity that led to the injury. 

It is normal to be cautious and avoid the activities that aggravate pain but it should only last during the inflammatory phase which should be temporary for about a few days to a week. If you still feel that you are avoiding activities after a week which may impede your healing process, it is advisable to seek medical help.

Level 3 Protection – Hormones

Our hormones do affect how susceptible we are to pain episodes too. For example, ladies who are experiencing their menstrual cycle or menopausal (due to change in oestrogen level in the body) may experience more pain in areas they have had pain previously. For example, ladies who have low back pain may experience higher intensity of pain during the menstrual cycle. 

Now we know why we experience pain. Pain is like a warning sign in the car that tells you that you are low in fuel but it does not mean the fuel tank is damaged, hence, pain can be a prompt for a new and better you. 

Understanding that pain is not all bad

In conclusion, understanding pain and the functions of pain at different phases of your condition will guide you in your rehabilitation. Pain is nothing to be feared and may not be detrimental. In fact, it can actually be helpful in guiding us on our rehabilitation journey to a greater height! If you are experiencing musculoskeletal pain and would like to see a physiotherapist, contact us to book an appointment.