In this series, we will take a look at the nature of pain, a major, perhaps the commonest health problem. Further, we will examine what causes pain and also how to deal with the short-term pain (which in medical parlance is called acute pain) and also long-term pain otherwise called chronic pain. Also, we will differentiate between the two and we will advise on how to handle pain, which is either physical in nature or distress pain which is mental or psychological in form. In both cases, pain can be severely distressing.
Today, let us focus on the nature of pain. Everyone experiences pain in one form or the other during our life time. Indeed, there is no escaping from pain. Even a yet–unborn child in the womb of the mother experiences pain. At some times, as children, we will knock our feet against a resistance and the child will shout for help. As a teenager, we may get disappointed as our desire conflicts with our own parents’ or guardians’ who often may deny the teen of their desire. The world may also let people down in various ways, leading to mental pain. The elderly may fall and break his or her arm. Housewives may have her finger scalded by hot oil or water in the kitchen. She will feel pain. The farmer may unwittingly cut himself in the farm or be stung by an insect, all leading to physical distresses.
Types of pain: Pain can be classified as acute (immediate, urgent, happening now) or chronic (long term). It can also be classified as physical or mental (psychological). A pain of a person who suffers a heart burn for six months or over is obviously long term and that is chronic; whereas, a pain of a foot being knocked against a brick wall is acute. A pain of the mind coming from sudden death of a relative is an acute emotional ache and a pain resulting from an examination that was failed five years ago is chronic psychological pain.
Importance of pain: Acute pain has significant value as its purpose is to safeguard the sufferer. It’s like an early warning system to the body, telling the individual that something has gone wrong and that such person should take care and also take precaution. Take the case of a hot water suddenly touching a part of our body for example. What happens is that the body will react to want to remove itself from such sources of pain. This is a protective function. However, unlike acute pain, chronic pain has passed the phase of providing a warning to us. Chronic pain tells us that a disease is going on in the respective parts of our body.
What is pain? According to the International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP), pain is “an unpleasant sensation and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage or described in terms of such damage.” Dictionary definition of pain (as noun) say it is a highly unpleasant physical sensation caused by illness or injury. Synonyms: suffering, agony, affliction, torture, torment, discomfort, ache, aching, soreness, mental suffering or distress. Say “the pain of loss” Synonyms: sorrow, grief, heartache, heartbreak, sadness, unhappiness, distress, desolation, misery, wretchedness, despair, desperation, mental suffering, emotional suffering or trauma.
Further, to quote Encyclopedia Britannica, pain can be regarded, as a complex experience consisting of a physiological and psychological response to a noxious stimulus. Also, in general, psychological pain emotional distress either from a current or past situation that has affected one’s life to some degree is known as psychological pain.
We are all the same but different: We all experience sensation of pain regardless of who we are. However, everyone has different ways of responding to pain. Due to individual nature as well as cultural ways in which our life has been modified, we may experience and respond to the same level of pain differently. An example is labour pain in women. While many Northern Nigeria women would hardly show evidence of being in pain during childbirth to the surprise of attending nurses and doctors, the same cannot be said of other parts of Nigeria. A pin prick may result in severe response in one person while the other individual will hardly show that anything has touched him or her.
This is important in the sense that, if a person or child or a friend or even any member of our family complains of pain of whatever source, we should take the complaint seriously. We should not dismiss the person as malingering, pretending or telling lies. We should attend to the person as if we are the one that is feeling the pain. If we ignore the victim of pain, the pain may itself become worse as there is psychological effect of not being taken seriously worsening the feeling of pain. A wife complaining of pain deserves to be taken seriously as much as the husband becoming a victim of pain. In the next article, we will take a look at acute pain.