CBT for Pain - Module 2 Summary

CBT for Pain: Pain Explained

Pain Explained

Think about the different ways you’ve experienced pain.

If you bump your elbow, you might feel an electric shooting of pain down your arm. If you bruise your shin, it might ache for a few days. Depending on how your body was injured, the pain will feel different.

This module will review the different types of pain and the sensations that go with them.

What is Pain?

The International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP) defines pain as “an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with, or resembling that associated with, actual or potential tissue damage.”

In other words: you physically and emotionally sense something unpleasant, and it is related to damage to your body.

Here are some more facts about pain:

  • Pain is subjective - only you understand your pain and only you can explain it

  • Pain is more than a feeling - it also involves your perception of it

  • You learn about pain through your personal experiences

  • Pain may affect your day-to-day functioning and your emotions

Acute Pain vs Chronic Pain

Your pain may be acute or chronic. Acute pain is short-term or suddenly worse pain. It usually happens after something specific, like an injury.

Acute Pain:

  • Lasts less than 3 months

  • Is your body’s response to an injury

  • Gets better with time

  • Improves with treatment

Chronic Pain

Chronic pain is long-term and is often harder to pinpoint to a specific incident or cause. 

Conditions often have an expected time of healing. For example, you may be told by your doctor that your back will feel better in 6 weeks. Chronic pain lasts longer than what’s expected - i.e. you are still having back pain well after 6 weeks.

Chronic pain also:

  • Lasts 3 months or more

  • Is a condition (a disease, illness, or injury)

  • May be from an old injury

  • Lasts beyond the expected time for healing

  • May or may not respond to treatment

Recent research shows that when you feel pain without having continued damage to your body, it is because your nervous system is misfiring pain signals. This is the reason that managing chronic pain often gives you more relief than trying to cure it.

Nociceptive vs Neuropathic Chronic Pain

Chronic pain may affect any part of your body. It may be from tissue damage or nerve damage - it may be nociceptive or neuropathic.

Nociceptive pain is caused by tissue damage. It often feels achy or deep. Some examples are a muscle strain (pulled muscle) or ligament sprain. Neuropathic pain is caused by nerve damage. It often feels like burning, shooting, tingling, or electric sensations. Some examples are a herniated disc in your spine, or carpal tunnel.

What do you think your pain is - nociceptive or neuropathic?

Nociceptive pain often feels like a deep, aching sensation. Neuropathic pain feels like burning, tingling, or electricity.

Activity - Describe Your Pain

Take a break, find a quiet spot, and open your journal. Find a blank page. 

At the start of this module, we went through some facts about pain:

  • Pain is subjective - only you understand your pain and only you can explain it

  • Pain is more than a feeling - it also involves your perception of it

What words would you use to describe your pain? How do you view your pain?

Remember:

Chronic pain is a complex sensory and emotional experience that is unique to you. The way you respond to the pain, and the way that pain limits you depends on where you feel the pain, how the pain feels, the meaning of the pain to you, and your emotional state.

Summary:

  • Pain means that you physically and emotionally sense something unpleasant due to actual or potential damage to your body.

  • Acute pain is short-term or suddenly worse pain. It usually happens after something specific, like an injury.

  • Chronic pain is long-term. The pain lasts longer than what is expected for the injury.

  • Nociceptive pain is caused by tissue damage, and neuropathic pain is caused by nerve damage.