Pain Management and Medications – A Reality Check

In this post: Why tolerating pain without taking medication can be harmful, and how to use perspective taking to challenge your own views and improve your pain management.

I’m not part of our clinical team, I’m just a very lucky marketing professional who gets to learn from some of the world’s best scientists everyday at work. “Thanks” to several knee surgeries and arthritis I’m fairly familiar with pain. Yet, through this job my understanding of ongoing pain has been turned upside down, and I’m glad it has. I want to share this learning with all of you, from a lay-person’s perspective.

It’s time again for a pain management reality check!

I’ll be the first one to admit that I’ve been acting completely wrong regarding this. But, you live, you learn, and you improve your ways.

Today I’d like to challenge this statement:

“Tolerate pain for as long as you can before taking medication.”

That is exactly what I used to do. My reasoning was that if I can still function with the pain, I’d rather feel it because I’d learned that pain is the body’s way to signal that there is a threat. I wanted to hear those signals loud and clear.

The more nerves practice, the more efficient they become

The problem is that while pain is the body’s warning system, that only holds true for acute pain. As we’ve already discussed here and here ongoing pain plays by different rules.

If you are living with ongoing pain a new set of rules drives pain. When nerves transmit more signals that contribute to pain, they become better at what they do. By letting pain ramp up you are actually letting your nerves be more active, for longer periods of time. Your body “gets better” at transmitting signals that contribute to pain. You know the saying ‘practice makes perfect’? I don’t think pain is something we want to perfect. 

Let’s challenge what we think we know

If my nerves have gradually become ‘good at pain,’ how do I reverse that? After all, I have always assumed my nerves were responsible for my pain. For many years I experienced pain as a shortcoming of my body. When you grow accustomed to experiencing pain in a certain way, it’s difficult to imagine anything else! Getting stuck in these familiar patterns of thinking felt so natural, I assumed it was truth.

Let’s challenge those patterns.

We are facing a dilemma. Either we tolerate pain and let the nerves improve at transmitting signals related to pain…or we just take a ‘painkiller’ to limit how active these nerves become. From now on, I choose to prevent these nerves from becoming over-achievers.

Now, I know some ongoing pain doesn’t go away just by taking a painkiller. When medication doesn’t affect pain, that is a good sign that nerve signals are not driving the pain. You know what else is involved? The brain, but I’ll leave it to our science team to explain that.

Are you ready?

If you are ready to challenge your understanding of ongoing pain, you can now join our research study. Not only will we provide you with thought provoking facts about pain, we’ll also give you mindfulness meditations and positive psychology to build on that set of coping skills that makes pain management work in the best possible way.

And don’t forget to check out all our blog posts. We have plenty of interesting information about the science of ongoing pain and pain management.