Pain is a complex subjective experience that is influenced by multiple factors, including physical, psychological, and social factors. Some of these factors include emotions, expectations, thoughts, beliefs, and past experiences (long-term memory). The International Association for the Studies of Pain defines pain as “an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage”. Pain is complex and biological factors, interact with psychological factors, and both are further influenced by the person’s social and cultural environment contributing to the pain experience.
Learning about the neuroscience of pain refers to the study of how pain is processed, perceived, and activated in the nervous system. The process of pain perception involves multiple regions of the brain, including the spinal cord, thalamus, cortex and up to 44 areas of the brain. Understanding the neuroscience of pain is essential for developing new treatments and improving the quality of life for people with chronic pain.
Recent evidence suggests that prescription medications including opioids do not improve symptoms or physical functioning in people living with chronic pain. Using medications and body-based treatments such as injections and nerve blocks are considered “biomedical” conventional treatments. This conventional model of pain management in which signs and symptoms are assumed to arise from damage to physical structures or degenerative processes that occurs after an injury can be counterproductive and ineffective according to recent pain science research.
Studies have led new development of pain management techniques, such as brain-based pain education, cognitive behavioral therapy, pain reprocessing therapy, and mindfulness-based interventions that aim to reduce pain by modifying the way the brain processes pain signals. Clinicians should be equipped to develop an effective plan of care that addresses the inter-connected biological, psychological, and social factors that can assist clients maximize function and quality of life — this starts with a basic understanding of pain neuroscience.