Persistent (or chronic) pain is complex.
Typically, there's not just one contributing factor, so it's important to take broader look.
That's where the biopsychosocial model comes in. Biopsychosocial is not only a mouth-full, but can be complex as well. So let's break it down.
When we experience an injury or tissue trauma, nerves in that area send information to the brain about what happened. Pressure, temperature, stress, strain, inflammation, etc. The brain interprets that information, and often we experience pain.
Pain is a useful response. It can (or should) stop us from continuing to injure ourselves. It prompts us to get away from what is harming us or to stop lifting that heavy couch up those stairs.
However, in many cases of chronic or persistent pain, the information our nerves are sending to the brain (or the way in which the brain is interpreting that information) becomes misaligned with what is actually going on in our tissues.
It may be months after the actually injury has healed, but that area can still causes us pain. And that's why persistent pain can be like a hair-trigger alarm. Our nervous system can become overly sensitive to certain input. So instead of a motion sensory being calibrated to go off when a car goes back, it goes off when a leaf dances across the lawn. There's nothing fundamentally wrong with the alarm system, but sensitivity setting is too high.
Our emotional reactions to pain contribute to, and in some cases can cause or worsen our experience of pain.
Since pain is an output of the brain (and isn't always an accurate representation of actual tissue damage or injury), emotional input also gets taken into account.
Stress and catastrophic thought patterns can contribute to a nervous system that's become increasingly hypersensitive.
Knowing about how pain works, having realistic expectations, and utilizing a variety of therapies and stress management strategies can be a path toward reducing the intensity, duration, or frequency of persistent pain symptoms.
We are undeniably social creatures. Our environment, culture, and social expectations influence our response to pain, both acute and persistent. They are all other inputs that the brain takes into account when determining the output (that alarm's sensitively level) of pain.
Social contexts also shape and define how we cope with pain as well, such as having a support network or access to information and tools.
* * *
Interested in learning more about persistent pain? Check out my tools page here for videos, lectures, and book recommendations. Plus be sure to click on the related articles listed below.