During our time together we have explored numerous traditionally biological concepts from a sociological and psychological perspective. Today, we are going to examine pain through this lens.
Although we often think of pain as a purely awful feeling, it is important to acknowledge the role it plays in our health and safety. The sensation of pain helps to alert us to damage of our tissue. Though this is incredibly useful when there is a course of action to be taken to mitigate tissue damage, it becomes agonizing when in chronic conditions (American Psychological Association, 2013).
The areas of the brain involved in pain sensation share significant overlap with the areas of the brain implicated in anxiety and depression (mainly, the limbic system). Because of this, our emotions and affect play a large role in the way we experience pain and can even be its sole cause (Stanford University Division of Pain Medicine, 2021; Zerriny & Boyce, 2019).
Scientists believe that this relationship between affect and pain works through several mechanisms. Emotionality can make an individual hypervigilant of bodily sensations, magnifying and sometimes even causing the experience of pain. Additionally, chronic pain often precipitates depression and anxiety, creating a positive feedback loop of more intense pain (Eccleston, 2001).
Studies have consistently shown that addressing the emotional and psychological aspects of pain is imperative in the treatment of chronic conditions (Perlman et al., 2010; Roditi, D. & Roditi, M., 2011). Through a biopsychosocial lens, we can work to create better outcomes and more relief for patients struggling with pain!