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How Past Experiences Can Influence Pain Perception

November 22, 2022
You have probably noticed that some people have a higher pain threshold than others. Likewise, you might find it hard to understand why some people seem to experience so much pain due to a condition that barely bothers you. It turns out that we all experience pain differently. Not only that, but past experiences can also influence current pain perception.

You have probably noticed that some people have a higher pain threshold than others. Likewise, you might find it hard to understand why some people seem to experience so much pain due to a condition that barely bothers you. It turns out that we all experience pain differently. Not only that, but past experiences can also influence current pain perception.

Pain isn't actually a biological function that can be measured the same way as blood pressure or heart rate. Rather, pain is a function of the brain. It is a mental reaction to some sort of stimuli the brain perceives as danger. It's a signal that there is something wrong.

The nature of pain is such that the brain can store data from a particular pain experience and then retrieve it later on. It can also store information on traumatic events. Both types of data, when recalled, can influence pain perception.

Pain In the Dentist's Office

Explore your own memories and try to remember what it felt like to sit in the dentist's chair as he prepared to drill out your cavity-ridden tooth. You were probably afraid long before he started drilling. Now, do you remember the pain? If not, you probably still remember feeling very anxious and nervous.

Your brain stored some of that information away. As an adult, you may now feel the same anxiety and fear whenever you need to visit the dentist. And if this is the case, your anxiety and fear can magnify your sensation of pain. Unpleasant experiences from your childhood contribute to unpleasant feelings as an adult.

Past experiences tend to put an indelible mark on the memory whether we are conscious of it or not. Where pain is concerned, those stored memories are not only capable of influencing pain perception, but they are also capable of contributing to chronic pain conditions.

Pain and Past Trauma

Trauma is another factor that can influence pain perception. We don't know all of the nuts and bolts behind it, but studies have shown that people who tend to experience more frequent and severe chronic pain are also more likely to have experienced some sort of trauma in the past.

For the purposes of this discussion, trauma is defined as an event that causes hyperarousal in the brain. A soldier on the battlefield finds himself in a fight or flight situation. Medical science would consider that hyperarousal.

The brain reacts a certain way when in a hyper-aroused state. And just like with memories of pain, it can store information about a hyperarousal event and then retrieve that information later on. This is the very mechanism behind post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

In some people, pain perception is influenced when a pain event triggers the release of stored trauma information. Interestingly, a person doesn't even have to remember the past trauma to feel its effects. If the brain releases information from that past event, the perception of pain can be made more severe.

Pain Management Is Complex

The point of all of this is simply to illustrate that pain management is not an exact science. It is quite complex. That's why we believe so strongly in individualized treatment plans. We do not subscribe to the idea that pain management is only a matter of finding the right prescription meds. There is a lot more to it than that.

If you are experiencing what you consider severe pain, you're not alone. Know that your pain probably has physical causes, but your perception of that pain could be influenced by past experiences and traumas. We will do our best to help you figure it out.

By KindlyMD

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