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Does Pain Make Any Sense?

May 20, 2019 • Pain Science • Kory Zimney

Why does society fight the idea that pain is an experience and not a thing?

For one, I often think it may have something to do with control. For the most part, I think many would agree that we like to make sense of everything around us and have control over it. This is how we feel most at ease, when we are in control and have an answer that is dependable and predictable for the events we are going through or observing. A thing, an inanimate material object, can usually be controlled; pain not so much.

By definition, pain is an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience. A human experience is the result of a conscious human mind observing an event.

Considering we do not fully understand how, where, or what fully makes up consciousness we will struggle fully understanding pain.

Pain is a part of pretty much everyone’s normal human experience at some time and does not always seem to make sense.

One key component of pain neuroscience education (PNE) is trying to make sense of pain. I have really enjoyed going back and digging deeper into the article by Samantha Bunzli and colleagues in JOSPT in 2017. In this article, they go into detail talking about the Common Sense Model by Leventhal and how it relates to many people’s pain related fear that challenges them during a pain experience.

This is exactly in line with the words of wisdom that Louis Gifford left us when he wrote the forward to Adriaan and Louie’s original Therapeutic Neuroscience Education book in 2013. He finished the forward with a simple appeal, which came from a slide he would use when he started teaching the Clinical Biology of Aches and Pains course in 1993. We use a modified version of that slide today as we teach our Pain Neuroscience Education courses:


When we are able to help patients make sense of why they hurt by providing sound rational answers to these questions based on biological mechanisms and the science of pain, we do a great service to them.

Being able to provide this information in an easy, non-threatening way is an important step during the recovery process and making sense of the pain they are experiencing.

So when you are done with your initial visit with the patient, ask yourself if they can answer these questions based on the information you provided them.

Kory Zimney

Kory is a physical therapist with 25 years of experience and a dedication to changing how people in pain are treated. Current Roles: Associate Professor, University of South Dakota Faculty, EIM Research: The efficacy of pain neuroscience education on musculoskeletal pain: A systematic review of the literature The clinical application of teaching people about pain

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Commented • July 28, 2019

Food for thought! Always important to be reminded to see pain also from the patients point of view

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