Lately, there has been a lot of buzz about treating pain with pain. From studies about the psychology of pain to stories about BDSM as a coping mechanism for living with disease, these articles are written by non sufferers and seem lacking in patient perspectives.
The concept of treating pain with pain is almost instinctual. For instance, we tend to soothe a sore muscle with rubbing, smacking a bug bite that won’t stop itching, or using the distractive method of pinching your arm when your foot hurts. These techniques absolutely work, temporarily. They overload the nervous system and your brain momentarily interrupts the pain cycle. But pain is a weird experience. It is not easily subdued.
So far, science has a very limited understanding of pain. The current general consensus is that the brain is the translator and loudspeaker for nerves. Since the brain likes repetition, it begins solidifying those pain responses and sometimes they can become phantom. While the nerves and body don’t “feel” pain, the brain takes injury signals (or a memory of former signals) and translates them into various types of pain: sharp, dull, throbbing, aching, burning, numbing, pulsing, constant, zapping, wandering, central, light, strong, chronic, acute. All of these descriptions are relative and mostly immeasurable. There are antiquated (yet useful) ways of visualizing someone’s pain. Their heart rate generally rises and the blood pressure dips or soars. They can be shaky and unfocused. Vomiting, sweating, and wincing can be present. However, there can also be zero external signs of pain.
Pain can be breathless, sneaky, and daunting. It can keep you up at night and exhaust you to the point of barely existing. It can knock you off your feet only to shuffle back into the void when you seek help. Because of these inconsistencies and the dramatic differences in pain processing, there is no such thing as an average pain patient.
The clinics that advocate pain-to-pain treatment often double down on their experiment and negate all other forms of pain therapy. Analgesics, opioids, naturopathy, physical therapy, and other treatment options need to be on the table for all pain patients. There are people in so much pain that overloading their system with more nerve stimulation will cause additional adrenal fatigue or even a mental breakdown. Patients are desperate for quality care and they are willing to undergo dangerous experimental therapies for the slim chance of experiencing a breath without agony.
Unique and difficult pain conditions need a multi-system approach. This is rarely supported by doctors and insurance. Follow through and follow up are also critically important. Unfortunately, people with pain and other chronic diseases are often unable to complete actions that would otherwise be simple. While the onus falls on the patient, they can be overwhelmed by the simple act of living with their conditions. Throw in sky-high drug costs, doctors afraid to prescribe painkillers, using pain as a “treatment” method, a newly engrained medical practice of disbelieving patients, and allowing people to suffer through a misguided idea of toughening up, the tide has turned against us.
I’m not sure about you, but I will continue to fight for our right to be in control of our own health and our access to adequate pain management. Everyone deserves pain and symptom relief, not medical torture and avoidance.