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What exactly is pain?

Key take-aways:

  • Acute pain is fundamental for our survival.
  • Sensory neurons relay information about the pain to the brain.
  • Chronic pain plays by different rules.

Have you ever felt pain? Well, of course you have! We all have. Pain comes in many varieties, but generally we can classify pain according to how long it lasts: acute pain and chronic pain.

In our everyday lives we might not put much thought into the different kinds of pain. Pain is pain, and it hurts! In order to treat pain though, it is essential to first understand what type of pain we are dealing with, acute or chronic.

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Acute pain & chronic pain

Acute pain is a fundamental part of our existence because it protects us from injuries. You have felt acute pain at many times in your life, like when you fall and scrape your knee on the pavement, or when you twist your ankle. You experience this kind of pain when sensory neurons relay information about the injury to your brain, which then interprets the information as pain. This type of pain goes away when the injury has healed.

Chronic pain is a different animal, because it outlasts recovery of injury and the time the body normally needs to repair injured tissue. In other words, chronic pain is not caused by the normal activity of sensory neurons that contribute to acute pain. Chronic pain has no utility for us in the way acute pain does.

Our powerful brains help us make sense of the world, but unfortunately, there is no “quality control” for incoming sensory information that can earmark chronic pain. This means that when we experience pain, it feels the same whether it is chronic or acute in nature. Chronic pain feels just as painful and is just as real as acute pain.

So what does this mean for you? And what does science tell us about treating chronic pain?

Science of Chronic Pain

This is where things get really interesting!

For several decades, the healthcare system has focused on treating the part of the body in which pain is experienced. This makes sense for acute pain, but remember that chronic pain is not caused by normal activity of sensory neurons. An exciting line of research has emerged that suggests the brain plays a central role in the onset and long-term maintenance of chronic pain. The scientist who pioneered this research is also behind Aivo's pain app.

Our Chief of Science, Dr. Vania Apkarian of Northwestern University, has studied chronic pain for the last 30 years, and is one of the main authorities on the topic in the world with his work being cited over 20,000 times in scientific articles.  His work has established that chronic pain is in fact, in the brain, and that to treat the pain we should focus on the brain, not the body part that is in pain. Saying chronic pain is in your brain is not the same as saying that it is in your mind. Chronic pain is real and you are not imagining it. To treat it we must focus on the brain. To learn more about this, check out this blog post or visit our website.

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