“Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.” I am dedicating January’s entries to wellness, as a way to start off the year right. Last week was how to live long. This week, how to handle, avoid or treat wellness’ most formidable enemy – pain. Pain is unavoidable and is part of the human condition. It hurts but still, it is not all bad. Most of the great artistic contributions have been born of some kind of emotional pain. Suffering has been the impetus for countless inventions that have improved our lives; it is the inspiration for those who strive to make the world a better place. Take wine for example. If everyone was perfectly fine, physically and emotionally, the first winemakers would have probably not been looking for a way to take the edge off. Then where would we be?
1. Physical pain has some other redeeming qualities as well. It is our warning system. It tells you to move your hand, that pot is hot and will do some serious damage. It says move your foot, the guy standing on it is really heavy. It says get to the hospital, your appendix is about to burst.
2. There are two main types of physical pain called nociceptive and neuropathic. Nociceptive is the pain that can be good for you. It is how our body realizes there has been injury to our tissues. It is usually felt as dull, sharp or aching pain. Neuropathic pain is less useful and therefore, often more frustrating. It occurs when there has been damage to the nerves and can co-exist with nociceptive pain. It is usually felt as a burning, stinging or tingling. While nociceptive pain is very responsive to medication especially NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) like ibuprofen, neuropathic pain is much more difficult to treat.
3. People who seem to have a high tolerance to pain may not be as tough as you think. Individuals experience pain very differently and what may be a minor nuisance to one person, may be crippling to someone else.
4. Pain is not always linked to an injury or a disease. Sometimes, pain itself is the disease.
5. Psychosomatic pain is the term used to describe physical pain that is caused, at least in part, by mental and emotional factors. It is real. Just because it is all in your head, does not mean that it doesn’t hurt.
My parents had very different responses to my sisters’ and my injuries and illnesses growing up. Both were loving, concerned parents but handled their children’s pain very differently. My mother’s initial response to almost every complaint was, “You’ll be fine. Everyone gets that once in a while.” I have several scars from wounds that would have benefitted from a suture or two to remind me of her inimitable calm. My father on the other hand would be checking for broken bones when I got a paper cut. I think, as a life-lesson, the trick is to find a happy medium. Everyone does get aches and pains and every twinge is not life threatening. At the same time, sometimes pain should not be taken lightly. It is, again, how our body tells us something is wrong.
Tomorrow, pain that that should not be ignored.