We all know what pain is. But do you also know that not all pain is the same?
There are 2 totally different kinds of pain!
We call the first kind ACUTE PAIN! We’ve all experienced that. It happens when you hurt yourself, for example, because you step on a piece of broken glass, have an accident on your bike or hit your thumb with a hammer. The bigger the injury is, the worse the pain. A boxer’s punch hurts more than a friend’s nudge. ACUTE PAIN hurts the most at first, but when the injury heals, the pain diminishes and then disappears altogether. ACUTE PAIN is very important for human life. It has a warning function. It says, “Watch out! You’ve stepped on a piece of broken glass, don’t walk any further or the cut will get dirty. Better put your foot up”.
The other kind of pain we call CHRONIC PAIN and it’s really complicated. We speak of CHRONIC PAIN when the pain is there constantly over a long period of time or keeps coming back. Not everyone knows about CHRONIC PAIN, but it is quite common. Out of 100 children and adolescents, about 5 have such severe CHRONIC PAIN that they are often absent from school, don’t get together with friends very often or become very sad. The special and also strange thing about CHRONIC PAIN is that nothing is broken in the body, there is no new injury that has to heal, or the problem in the body is so small that it can’t explain all the severe pain. Often we don’t see that a person has CHRONIC PAIN. But nevertheless the CHRONIC PAIN is really there.
But, different as the 2 types of pain are, they also have something in common: Regardless of what kind of pain it is – whether it’s ACUTE or CHRONIC, whether it’s headaches, a toothache or stomach pain – in the end all pain arises exclusively in the brain. Otherwise you wouldn’t realise you have it.
If you have chronic pain, you’re not just imagining it and you have a right to be helped.
How does CHRONIC PAIN actually occur?
Chronic pain is learned by the brain, like a song. I’ll bet you’ve had a favorite song that stayed in your head? Sometimes our brain learns things without us wanting it to, or in spite of the fact that we really don’t want it to at all. Pretty annoying, isn’t it? You probably know all about that, too! Is there a band or a singer that you find totally awful? Think about it! Can you think of a song of theirs? Do you know the melody or maybe even the video? Why does it come to you? You find the song totally stupid and really don’t want to have it in your head. The brain learns not only positive and pleasant things, but also negative ones. Learning has a lot to do with feelings, and when you find something really stupid, your brain remembers it.
Let’s assume you have a headache, you’re also sad right now or someone is annoying you. Your brain can learn the headache really well right now and you will remember the headache. The next time you’re sad or someone annoys you, your headache might return, it might even be worse and at some point it will always be there. The brain becomes more and more sensitive to pain. At some point things start to hurt that didn’t hurt at all before, such as normal movement of the legs or a little muscle tension in the neck or a light rumbling in the stomach. Suddenly all that hurts. Sometimes the pain is so bad that you might think something must be broken! But it’s not! In contrast to acute pain, you can have severe chronic pain without any injury being present in your body.
It's really complicated! What can you do about it?
The best thing would be to forget about the CHRONIC PAIN, put it out of your mind and don’t think about it anymore. Unfortunately, that’s easier said than done! The pain is stored in your brain; it can’t simply be cut out in an operation and there are no pills to help you forget it. So, operations and pills don’t usually help with chronic pain!
Some pain medications are helpful with a few types of pain, for example, with migraines. But be aware that your doctor has to explain to you very precisely how to take pain medication. With many recurring or ongoing kinds of pain, medication doesn’t help at all and can even be harmful.
But what helps with chronic pain? Three things!
First: Negative feelings and stress can make pain worse! So it’s important to reduce negative feelings and stress. Pay close attention to what gives you negative feelings, what makes you stressed. Sometimes your school simply isn’t the right one for you, or you have absolutely no time for yourself because you have so many hobbies, your parents are arguing a lot, or you are just sad and don’t know exactly why. It can also be that someone touches you though you don’t want them to at all, or you are bullied at school, or something else in your life isn’t going just as you want it to. Often you can’t solve these problems alone so well. And that’s why there are people who can support you in this. Sometimes it’s parents, friends or relatives, but also your doctor, your favorite teacher, the school guidance counsellor or a telephone help line. There are many ways to find help.
Second. Your brain has learned pain, it can also unlearn it. This works best if the brain is very busy with other things that distract it from the pain. Simple tricks often help. Try thinking of a musician whose name begins with A. Have you got one? Good! Then think of one beginning with B. And with C...and D...and you go right through the alphabet like this; we call it Distraction ABC. There are a whole lot of other helpful techniques too like belly breathing, relaxation and using your imagination. Some techniques are used by Indian fakirs in order to sit on a bed of nails. They are hard to learn alone, so you need help with them. That’s why pain psychologists are there.
Third. Don’t let chronic pain keep you from doing all the things in life that you want to do, the nice things as well as the harder ones. You can gradually get back in sports, return to school or to your course and try to achieve your goals. You can enjoy getting together with your friends again. ACUTE PAIN often gets better if you take it easy for a short time, but unfortunately chronic pain just gets worse the longer you rest. So, being more active will help you get your pain
Let’s see if we can put it all together in 2 sentences. Chronic pain is learned by the brain; lying down and taking it easy doesn't help! The best strategies for putting chronic pain behind you are: deal with current problems, unlearn chronic pain with distraction and getting active again! If you can’t manage it on your own, get help!