Pain: Understanding the Subjective, Objectively
Pain is a universal element of the human experience. Everyone, at some point in their lives, experiences pain in one form or another. Pain has numerous causes, effects, and is itself a highly complex biological phenomenon. It also carries with it important emotional and social concerns. Pain cannot be entirely understood within the context of any one field of scientific inquiry. Indeed, it must be examined across a range of disciplines, and furthermore considered in relation to important non-scientific influences, such as emotional responses and social determinants. I conducted my explorations regarding pain with the following question in mind: to what degree is pain subjective? I found several avenues of inquiry to be useful in my explorations: they are (1) the expanding specialty in the medical profession of pain management; (2) pain in individuals with spinal cord injuries (SCIs) and (3) pain experiences of children. Examining these issues led to the conclusion that pain is in fact a highly subjective phenomenon.
"The philosophy that you have to learn to live with pain is one that I will never understand or advocate," says Dr. W. David Leak, Chairman & CEO of Pain Net, Inc. (1). Indeed, the notion that pain is an essential element of life, and that one must endure pain to achieve something positive (as conveyed in the omnipresent athletic mantra "no pain, no gain") has informed our sense as a society of how pain is to be dealt with. Only recently, with increasing awareness in the health care community that managing a patient's pain is a complex, yet crucial aspect of their care, has society's view of pain and its management begun to change. "Pain Management" is itself a neologism, and the establishment of pain management as a legitimate sub-specialty in the medical profession has no doubt encouraged people previously untreated for serious pain to obtain medical treatment. The existence of pain management clinics and services has altered the greater social understanding of pain from one that posited it as an imperative, to one that posits it as an unnecessary and entirely treatable condition. It is conceivable that formerly, when individuals did not have access to such services, that they conditioned themselves to make their pain less of an issue. Most people have had the experience of being required to actively control their pain, and therefore we can conclude that pain is heavily influenced by such social factors. These factors are almost impossible to understand in any objective sense, but to objectively understand pain, we must realize that they contribute to the notion of pain as a subjective phenomenon:
Pain is not just a physical issue, but effects all aspect of you physical and mental health. Despite centuries of trying to separate mind and body, treatment of chronic pain forces us to admit this can't be done. We will never say your pain is in your head but thoughts and emotion...