What is Pain?

What is Pain?

Most of us have experienced pain at some point in our lives, and for those who have not, that is great! Everyone wants to avoid feeling pain, and when we have it, we want to get rid of it. Pain gets a bad rap, but it can alert us of potential danger or notify us prior to injury. This means that pain does not necessarily signify damage is occurring. Pain can also makes us move differently, which can be beneficial for tissue healing. Pain causes us to take notice of our current situation, and motivates us to do something to relieve it.  

Pain Defined

Pain is a word that gets thrown around a lot, but what exactly is pain? Pain receptors located in our tissues, once activated (i.e. stubbing your toe on the bed post..ouch), relay messages along nerves traveling to our brain. These messages are often interpreted as sharp, shooting, burning, achey, and shocks of electricity.  According to the International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP), pain is defined as “An unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with, or resembling that associated with, actual or potential tissue damage”.  In other words, pain is an emotional interpretation of a sensation. 

Influence of Emotional State on Pain


There are many examples of how our emotional state can affect our perceived pain. Our emotional state can either amplify, or diminish the intensity of the pain we feel. This is an example of the “mind-body connection”. Have you ever felt more discomfort when you were stressed, depressed, or anxious? Have you been able to forget your pain when you are doing something you enjoy? Oftentimes we forget our pain when we are in competition or exercising. A perfect example of this was when Kobe Bryant was able to knock down two free throws after suffering an Achilles rupture. Amazing Right!  

Beneficial Effects of Movement on Pain

Regular aerobic exercise, stretching, and resistance training have shown beneficial effects directly on reducing pain, and indirectly through reducing stress and anxiety1. 

A process termed “Exercise Induced Hyperalgesia” caused by exercise, results in increased pain tolerance and reduced pain intensity during and after exercise2. However, individuals in pain must proceed with caution. Too little exercise will not provide benefit and too much exercise has the potential to aggravate symptoms. 

How can A Physical Therapist Help?

0983869001598912301.jpgPhysical Therapists, as movement specialists, are skilled at re-integrating movement in those individuals who are experiencing pain. Physical Therapists identify the pain source, develop a plan to  promote healing, reduce stress on the injured tissue, and provide guidance to safely return to your normal activities. If you feel like you may benefit from the guidance of a Doctor of Physical Therapy to rid yourself of pain, and return to activities you enjoy, schedule HERE with one of our team. 



Written by: Dr. David Enfinger PT, DPT  

1. Takács JR.. Regular physical activity and mental health. The role of exercise in the prevention of, and intervention in depressive disorders. Psychiatr Hung. 2014;29(4):386-397.


2. Koltyn KF, Brellenthin AG, Cook DB, Sehgal N, Hillard C. Mechanisms of exercise-induced hypoalgesia. The Journal of Pain. 2014 Dec 31;15(12):1294-304.




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