Making sense of your pain
Use this content to help you understand your pain.
Use this content to help you understand your pain.
Let’s dive into hearing from young people about their insights from living with persisting pain, how they understand and make sense of their pain and how these insights can help you understand your pain and get back on track.
This module adds another tool to your Pain Management Toolkit.
We have listened to young people describe the complex, multi-dimensional and disruptive impact of living with persisting musculoskeletal pain.
Here are key insights we have learnt from listening to young people living with musculoskeletal pain:
In this next section, we delve into making sense of your pain, what factors influence your pain experience, why pain varies and how you can manage your pain well.
In this video, young people share their experiences of how they make sense of their pain and talk about their management tips.
Most of us have experienced pain when we’ve fallen over, sprained an ankle, had an injection or operation, or when we’ve touched something scorching hot. This pain is referred to as acute pain.
We adapt how we move, what we feel (it hurts/it’s sensitive), what we think (will this get better/I’m scared to move in case I do more damage), what we do (limit activity and work/study) and what we don’t do (usual socialising).
Adapting what we do when there is ‘acute’ (short-lived) pain is helpful because it allows us to recover well and quickly. ‘Acute’ pain includes conditions such as tissue sprain, infection, or inflammation.
What’s hard to understand is why we get pain for no apparent reason. A good example here is when you experience a headache or tummy pain. For both these examples:
Persisting pain lasts longer than 3 months and affects about 1 in 5 young people. Persisting pain really gets in the way of life: pain impacts how we move, think, feel and act…and what we can do in life.
Next up we look at the invisibility of pain and provide helpful tips to understand your pain.
This is really tough. Not being able to see pain, makes it really hard to communicate with others about your pain, and explain how pain impacts your life. This makes it hard for others to understand what you’re going through.
You might have been told ‘pain is in your head’ or people may not believe you – sadly this is not uncommon. This is an incredibly frustrating experience.
If this experience sounds familiar to you, please take time to check out the content young people have created with us to address this issue: helping others to help you.
Xrays, MRI or CT scans and ultrasound images may be recommended so that you and your team can check for any specific tissue conditions.
Pain can fluctuate from moment to moment, hour to hour, and day to day. This is because lots of factors influence people’s pain experiences. Factors include:
What’s reassuring is knowing that our body systems are plastic, not ‘hard-wired’. This means our systems are capable of change in response to different contexts.
This plasticity opens new ways for us to learn how to manage pain with confidence and build resilience, to learn new ways of moving and responding to physical, emotional and environmental stressors.
It’s helpful to know that pain variations:
We’ve developed practical content to help you get back on track, manage pain variations and safely graduate your activities. Try the movement with pain and mindfulness and pain modules. If you prefer gentle movements, then yoga and pain would be a good option, too.
In this section, we guide you through a whole-person approach to care. Pain affects our whole person – that is why pain care should take a whole-person approach.
Our whole person is affected when we experience pain. This is because all our systems usually work very closely together, in a coordinated way, to keep us healthy.
Factors that can influence our pain, include:
For each person, the mix of these factors can influence our pain experience. This means each person’s pain experience is multidimensional and unique. That is why care needs to take a whole-person approach – and be tailored to meet each person’s unique needs.
If you want to work out your specific needs, check out our Örebro questionnaire to learn more.
Working out what these factors are – your pain triggers and what eases your pain, why your pain varies – will be an important step in learning how to understand and manage your pain.
While you may be able to do this alone, we highly recommend doing this with the support from an experienced clinician.
A health professional with pain management expertise can help you to figure out which factors influence your pain and work out a plan together to help you move towards recovery. This helps get you back to the things you enjoy.
Condition-specific factors may be very important. For example, in young people with Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis, specific medicines (called disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs or DMARDs) are really important to control the arthritis well.
We have discussed that lots of factors can affect pain experiences. So, it makes sense that no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to quality care.
Good quality pain care is care that:
Holistic personalised care is developed in partnership with you and an experienced clinician who can help you implement the plan, support you, monitor and adapt the plan with you.
Identifying the factors that contribute to your pain, means planning care that can address each and all of these factors in a way that best meets your needs.
Depending on your needs, care planning might be multimodal – this means we use a number of different approaches combined to form a holistic care plan. For example, working to improve your sleep, reduce distress and fear, learn ways to safely graduate your movement and activity or exercise, or support you to cope with pain.
Depending on the mix of factors in your case, your care plan might be supported by 1 or 2 key health professionals, or you may need a small team of health professionals with different skills working together with you.
This is commonly referred to as multidisciplinary or interdisciplinary care. Simply put, it is coordinated team care. Check out the fact sheet on using a pain team.
High quality pain care is safe, effective, holistic, tailored to your needs and planned with you. Care should involve:
High quality care means addressing all the factors related to your pain. This involves holistic care that helps you get back to doing what matters to you with confidence.
Holistic care approaches are covered in our management modules and include:
Not everyone needs all of these care components. Others might need more of these components or care might need to be ‘stepped-up’ with a few different health professionals to support you. This often includes specialists, such as pain medicine doctors or rheumatologists.
Importantly, you might need to take some time to find the right pain care team for you – it might take a few attempts to find health professionals you feel comfortable with a gel with. And this is OK!
If you’re not sure about what you need, try jotting down what care you think you need and take the plan to your health professional to discuss together.
Pain medicine use should be discussed with your GP or pain medicine specialist, or with your rheumatologist if you have a rheumatologic condition, like Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis.
You can also check out our medicines module for more info.
Here are some helpful resources to help you increase your knowledge about pain and develop strategies to manage your pain. Alternatively, if you want to talk to someone, please seek further assistance.
Finding a health professional team who can support you in your care is important. If you need expert help, ask your health professionals for their help or their recommendations for clinicians working in pain care.