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We have all experienced pain before. Whether your pain has been intense or mild, acute (like when you first sprain your ankle) or chronic (like a nagging back pain that you've had for the years), one thing is consistent, experiencing pain is never fun.

So what is pain anyways, and why do we experience it?

Although it was once believed that pain started within the various tissues in the body, it is now understood that pain only exists once the brain determines it does.

When the brain determines a tissue may be in danger, it utilizes a form of a “road map” to send an output of pain to that tissue. This communication between the brain and the tissues of the body acts as your body’s defense mechanism against not only injury but also the potential of injury. Therefore, we now know that pain can be experienced when there is an acute injury to tissue or as a warning signal to prevent perceived danger.

Finding the source of pain is not always as easy as getting a diagnostic image, like an x-ray or a MRI.

This has been supported by research including a study that looked at individuals over the age of 60 yrs old who did not experience any symptoms of low back pain. Diagnostic imaging was taken from these asymptomatic individuals and 36% were diagnosed with a herniated disc, 21% had spinal stenosis and greater than 90% were found to have a bulging disc.

It has also been determined that the degree of injury does not always correlate with the intensity of pain someone perceives. A number of factors may play into a person's perception of pain, including psychological conditions such as depression and anxiety. Variables such as these have been shown to affect pain, such as increasing long term pain following an operation.

Pain may also be influenced by stressful environments or situations. As a form of self protection, your brain can form pain messages when an individual is in a situation that their brain sees as “unsafe”. This can provide for increased pain in settings where an individual is in high stress or associated around a time where a major event occurred, such as the death of a loved one.

The body has a "roadmap"that it uses to navigate and control the different areas of the body including your left and right side. When an individual experiences pain, this ‘roadmap’ can be altered, making it harder to determine your left from right side . This can affect the way an individual moves. Physical Therapy can also aid in re-writing this ‘roadmap’ to regain pain free and safe movement.

Physical Therapy is a safe treatment for pain.

Physical Therapists treat pain with hands on care, specific movement and patient education.

If you experience pain, reach out to your Physical Therapist who can provide you with an in depth evaluation and plan to help you reduce your pain.


Allegri M, Montella S, Salici F, et al. Mechanisms of low back pain: a guide for diagnosis and therapy [revised]. F1000Res. 2016;5:F1000 Faculty Rev-1530. doi: 10.12688/f1000research.8105.2.

Brence J. APTA, 9 Things you should know about pain.

Carroll I, Wang J, Wang M, et al. Psychological impairment influences pain duration following surgical injury. J Pain. 2008;9 (Suppl 2):21.

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