It is a subjective experience, in that the only way we can tell if someone is in pain is if they tell us.
It is an individual experience, which we cannot measure by using a tool or gadget to quantify.
In the past 10 years we have seen a huge advancement in the research surrounding pain, and our knowledge of what is actually going on when our brain perceives pain has improved greatly. Let's start off by looking at our anatomy.
We have receptors in our skin that detect heat, cold, pressure and light touch. If something hot touches our skin, these receptors send that message to our spinal cord and brain. If it is hot enough to cause tissue damage, our hand will reflexively pull away from the hot object to protect ourselves from being burnt and you will feel pain. If it is only mildly hot (not enough for your brain to register as dangerous) this will not happen. The same thing happens with cold and pressure- think when you step on something sharp, your foot will quickly pull away form that sharp object but you will still feel some degree of pain.
In this way pain can be protective. We need pain for this reason. If we weren't able to detect stimuli that may cause our bodies damage, we would continue to hold a scalding pot and give ourselves serious burns.
This is also true for when you sprain a joint, such as an ankle, in the first few days after injury. The ankle will feel very sore and you will not want to put to overuse it. This is also a protective mechanism. This is why in the early days of a joint sprain it is advised to only perform gentle movements, and avoid running/jumping on the joint because it is still healing. Gradually the pain goes away as the tissues around the joint heal and we can walk on the ankle more and more, and eventually don't even notice it.
These are all normal responses to a painful stimulus, and if we didn't feel pain you could see how we would constantly be getting injured from the environment we live in!
The most common example of persistent pain is in people with back pain, who have had pain for years on end. Back pain is very common, with 8 in every 10 adults getting back pain at some point in their lifetime. The vast majority of episodes of back pain resolve within 6 weeks, but there is a small percentage who have pain that persists.
How is it possible to still have pain when there is no longer any tissue damage? If there is nothing damaged then why do I still have pain? A lot of this boils down to the functioning of your nervous system.
If you would like further information or are experiencing pain or soreness, please contact one of our QOL physiotherapists on (08) 9345 0842