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The Truth About Pain

Pain is something everyone experiences, but few understand! Pain is a warning system meant to protect you, but it does not always mean something in the body is actually damaged. The traditional medical model treats pain biologically, however, pain is biopsychosocial, meaning it is a biological, psychological, and sociological experience. If only the biological component of pain is exclusively treated, 2/3 of the pain problem are not being addressed.

Let’s break it down a little more!

  • The biological aspects of pain include actual inflammation or tissue damage.

  • The psychological components of pain include our thoughts, past trauma, adverse childhood experiences, pain memories, emotional state, and coping behaviors.

  • Sociological involvement includes socioeconomic status, access to care, race and ethnicity, family and friends, and support system.

What is even more fascinating is that all of the sensory signals for pain are filtered through the emotion center of the brain (the limbic system) before the experience of pain is interpreted and felt by someone. It is also believed that pain resides only in the body during an experience of tissue damage, but pain actually resides primarily in the brain since it is a subjective and personally interpreted experience based on many factors. Our brain also has a dedicated portion for pain memories to be stored. Previous trauma or adverse childhood experiences can decrease someone's ability to tolerate pain and amplify the level of pain felt because that individual’s brain is wired to be more alert and protective over the body. An individual’s level of pain can be directly affected by stress and anxiety, mood and emotions, and where an individual’s focus or attention is at. This means we have the power to change the experience of pain for someone by addressing the psychological and sociological components associated with pain.

Child life specialists have expertise in focusing on the psychological and sociological aspects of a medical experience for children while partnering with the medical team who is focusing on the biological components. With this well-rounded approach, child life specialists can increase coping and resilience during an experience that may be painful for a child or teen. Thus, a child life specialist’s intervention and support can have lasting effects on increasing a child’s ability to tolerate pain, transform a child’s view of their capability to handle situations or procedures that may include the experience of pain, and decrease the chances of a painful experience being traumatic.

References Ward, Allie, “Dolorology (PAIN) with Dr. Rachel Zoffness.” November 10, 2021.