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What is my pain system?

Just like we have a digestive system and circulatory system to make our body work, we also have a system responsible for helping us with pain. Your ‘pain system’ comprises your brain, spinal cord and all of your nerves.


What is persistent pain?

Believe it or not, pain is useful. It helps us learn and keeps us safe from harm. When working normally, the ‘pain system’ gives a warning signal if you are in harm's way. For example, standing on a sharp nail, the pain tells you to move your foot. This is called acute pain, it is a warning signal and tells you not to stand on sharp nails!


Sometimes the ‘pain system’ goes wrong and carries on sending warning signals after this healing time. This is unhelpful as it does not help the healing process as it has already finished. This type of pain is known as persistent pain.


What causes persistent pain?

Often there is no clear reason why the ‘pain system’ sometimes goes wrong. Persistent pain is not in your imagination and most certainly is not just in your head. The healthcare system now thinks that persistent pain is due to changes that occur within our pain system (brain, spine and nerves). Factors such as worrying about the pain, stress, poor diet and lack of sleep are thought to play a part making the ‘pain system’ more sensitive. With a more sensitive ‘pain system’, simple things like movement, touch or even thinking about your problem can hurt.


What treatment is there?

In most cases of persistent pain, there is no specific treatment that will make the pain go away completely. There are however many things that you can do to help yourself .


What can I do to help myself?

PACING: Are you doing too much on your good days? And then very little on your bad days? It is important to stay active. However, if you overdo things this can increase the sensitivity of your pain system. Therefore aim to break up activities that aggravate your pain by building in short breaks.

EXERCISE: Exercise is the best medicine for your body.  It is important that you try and start some form of regular exercise. Exercise can mean anything and the best form is doing something you enjoy. Exercise and activity can help ease persistent pain and also it will maintain or improve your strength and flexibility which will support your joints with all your daily tasks.
RELAXATION: Relaxation is often undervalued but is a very good tool in your daily management of your pain. Relaxation, mindfulness or meditation can allow you decrease tension in muscles and unwind the mind.
Ideas for relaxation could include:
·         reading a book
·         watching a movie
·         relaxation or breathing exercises
·         Anything that you enjoy doing.


What else can I do?

Some persistent pain is helped by the right medication and it can allow you to become more active. Check with your GP or Pharmacist to ensure you are receiving the most effective medication. Sometimes persistent pain isn’t helped by medication and therefore, exploring the factors listed above is often best.
You can be eligible to be referred into the Positive Pain Management Group run by the Musculoskeletal service. This is a 4 week course which will give you a greater understanding of your pain and how to manage this on a daily basis. If you are interested, please discuss this with your physiotherapist.
If you recognise that anxiety, stress and low mood might be effecting you, the local Wellbeing service can offer support.
If you are having work related issues then the Shaw trust may be able to help.