We often say I am in pain but does this really describe what is happening. Knit-picking perhaps, but I think that what we say, the words we use and the way that we use them are fundamental to being human and who we are as individuals. The innumerable phrases that have been passed down the generations will have their origins in a time was very different. So how relevant are they now? And how useful?
Someone says to you, I am in pain and instinctively you know what they mean. You cannot possibly know what they feel or how they are feeling it, but you know that they are feeling something unpleasant and want you to know about it. There is a point to telling others about your pain, perhaps to seek help or advice, to gain sympathy or to give reason for non-participation for example. These are all accepted reasons for sharing, and would typically be known as part of the social dimension of pain.
However, we cannot really be ‘in’ pain. We can feel pain, pain can emerge from our very being (this includes our body) and pain can hurt, but you cannot be in pain. You can be in a house, a car or tent. Being in something suggests that you can get out. If you say that you are in pain, it suggests that you can get out of pain. Now, pain changes and is transformed (we are not in a constant state of anything, hence pain comes and goes like any other state–pain is part of a protective state), but you cannot get out of pain because you cannot be in pain. There is no entrance or doorway to pain that once you have entered requires you to find an exit.
Should we change our terminology and what effect would that have? I don’t think it will really change anytime soon, however when clinicians are thinking about the pain being described by an individual, it is more accurate to consider the whole person from where the pain emerges in a particular location, with the underpinning biology involving many systems upstream of the lived experience. A story book requires a reader, words on a page and the book to be bound together. The book is the body that is read yet the reader must take the words and create a meaning, a story that makes sense, lived in his or her whole person–a beautiful description is felt and lived through the whole person involving complex biology that is a blended mind-body; embodied cognition. Our body is a story book yet the story is our experience. Changing the terminology will occur with time and as the understanding of pain evolves.
The growth of pain understanding is vital as a basis for informed choices and treatment choices–one of the biggest reasons for chronic pain being the number one global health burden is the lack of understanding, whereby the medical model continues to predominate treatment choices; i.e./ target treatment at the place where pain is felt in the body. This misses the point of pain as part of the way in which a whole person protects himself/herself, and indeed much of our common language contributes to an old belief system that our generation has been brought up upon. Evolution takes time and of course a new and more complex explanation to replace one that is simple, will be threatening. Nonetheless, this is where we will go as people experience failed treatments or do not reach the expected outcomes alongside developments in pain science that become increasingly known in the public domain. This knowledge will demand that things continue to change, and as a result so will our language. As is common though, this is a two way street and if we take opportunities to change our language, then we are using the social dimensions of pain to create learning opportunities that lay the foundation for perceptual shifts. And there’s one thing that changes pain, and that’s a perceptual shift.
Richmond with Georgie Standage co-founded UP | Understand Pain, a campaign to raise awareness of the problem of pain and what we can do to overcome pain — we are no longer managing pain, we are changing pain and coaching people back to a meaningful life. The next UP event is in October when more than 1000 singers will be performing; even more than last time!
The Pain Coach Programme is a comprehensive strengths based approach to overcoming pain. Call us on 07518 445493 to start your programme.