Understanding Pain

Understanding Pain

According to the International Association of the Study of Pain (IASP) pain is “an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage, or described in such terms of damage”.  Although this is a scientifically accurate definition of pain, it challenges how most people actually understand pain.

This definition describes pain not as a physical thing that you can see or touch, rather it is described as a “sensory and emotional experience”.  As we know one person’s emotional experience to a particular event can be completely different to another person’s.

Pain is not as predictable as we would like it to be.  Most people understand pain as signifying harm or damage to the body.  Once the damage or injury has healed, it is expected that that the pain will simply go away.  For example, if you jam your finger in a cupboard door it will hurt immediately and go away after the swelling has settled.  Unfortunately the relationship between pain and actual tissue damage is not that simple.  In fact the relationship becomes more unpredictable the longer the pain persists.

Dr Lorimer Moseley at the University of South Australia has written an interesting article reconceptualising our understanding of pain. A link to the full text article is here:


In the article he listed 4 interesting points regarding pain.  The points are:

“ 1:       That pain does not provide a measure of the state of the tissues

2:       That pain is modulated by many factors from across somatic, psychological and social domains

3:       That the relationship between pain and the state of the tissues becomes less predictable as pain persists

4.       That pain can be conceptualised as a conscious correlate of the implicit perception that tissue is in danger.  ” (Moseley, 2007)

These points imply that pain does not always equal harm, and that pain is influenced by multiple factors, not just physical factors.  To understand this further have a look at this video of Dr Jon Ford at Advance Healthcare explaining the complexity of chronic pain to one of his patients.  


This video highlights the importance of education in the treatment of chronic pain.  Having a better understanding of the physical, psychological and social interactions of your individual pain problem is the first step to changing your attitudes and beliefs of pain, and hopefully your first step to recovery. 

Daniel Di Mauro is a physiotherapist with Advance Healthcare St Albans.  Daniel provides physiotherapy services for spinal pain, and pain management, to surrounding areas such as Sunshine, Caroline Springs, and Keilor Downs. Daniel is a McKenzie credentialed physiotherapist and also speaks fluent Italian.  See more about Daniel on our practitioners page or on LinkedIn