The experience of pain can bring mild discomfort, excruciating pain and various levels of pain in between. The way in which feelings of pain are processed by the body can vary among people, and the physiology of pain perception is complex. This is why the sensation of pain is a very individual experience. As difficult as pain may be to cope with, it is an essential part of life and protects us from danger and threat. It gives us a “heads up” that something isn’t right. For instance, it can let us know that something is wrong internally and needs to be checked out. Pain also helps us avoid further injury. If you put your hand on an open flame, the pain tells us to quickly remove it before more damage is done. Pain begins with some sort of stimulus – an injury or illness. Whether it’s acute or chronic in nature, pain is influenced by physiological and psychological factors.
People deal with pain in different ways. Some people are very tolerant of pain that would make others extremely uncomfortable. The difference is perception, and this has to do with how the brain interprets signals and controls our responses to pain. There are certain things that are thought to play a role in a person’s individual response to pain. These can include gender, hormones, brain neurochemistry and genetics. For instance, some researchers say factors like these may provide clues as to why more women than men suffer from chronic pain conditions such as fibromyalgia.
Emotions and psychological state may also play a part in the way pain is perceived, especially when that pain is chronic. Some studies have shown that pain can be amplified when coupled with negative emotions and state of mind. Beliefs and attitudes about pain can influence the pain experience. Chronic pain conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia and lupus can cause widespread, persistent pain. Many people who suffer with unrelenting pain can fall into depression and bouts of anxiety. This is thought to cause a worsening of the pain for many sufferers.
Pain can be managed through means including medication, physical therapy and lifestyle changes. Because the mind-body connection is strong, there are other treatments that are thought to affect the perception of pain. Treatments that may offer relief include aromatherapy, relaxation, hypnosis, meditation and acupuncture.
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