Fear Learning and Pain-Related Fear: What You Need to Know

Most of us associate pain with stimuli that we have known in the past to cause pain (such as a hot stove or a sharp object) or that we have observed causing pain in others. This is an evolutionary advancement that has allowed humans to avoid situations that could harm or kill them, and, most of the time, it is quite useful. Instead of having to be constantly reminded that the stove is hot, our brains recall the one time we burned ourselves and we know better than to touch the surface with our bare hand.

However, there are times when pain is a result of fear learning and can increase reactions to only minor painful stimuli. This pain-related fear can cause a person to avoid certain movements or tasks that impact their enjoyment of life. For example, if someone with a previous back injury learned that stretching caused pain, they may avoid what would be beneficial stretching in the future because they have a memory and fear of the pain it once caused.

Fear-related pain is our attempt to make sense of threatening pain and people often draw on past experiences of pain, observations of others in pain, and societal beliefs to form an opinion that may be harmful. This can lead to a fear of future damage and a confusion of how to ‘fix’ pain that might exist merely in a person’s head. When these people seek out treatment for a fear-based pain, they often experienced repeated failures to control the pain because the actual cause of it is not being addressed.

Depending on their personal experiences with pain and observations of others in pain, some may be more predisposed to fear-based pain than others. It’s important for those who experience this type of pain to see a healthcare provider who understands the underlying causes and who can treat both the mental and physical aspects of pain. An experienced pain clinic can uncover experiential or mental factors that may be playing into the patient’s experience of pain. They can then put together a treatment plan that may include both physical treatments and behavioral treatments to effectively lessen or eliminate the patient’s pain.

Is pain inhibiting your current lifestyle? Whether the cause is purely physical, is fear-based, or is a combination of the two, our experienced pain professionals can devise a treatment that is right for you. Visit our website today for more information.

Risk Factors for Persistent Pain: Who Is Most at Risk?

Persistent pain can have an incredibly negative effect on our overall quality of life. Whether it is due to a chronic illness, a recent injury, or an inherited genetic condition, persistent pain affects every part of our lives and most sufferers constantly seek out whatever treatments or medicines that could help them feel better.

Researchers have found that people react differently to, and experience varying levels of, persistent pain due to risk factors that are sometimes not related to the cause of pain itself. Knowing what these factors are and identifying who is at risk helps doctors and pain management specialists uncover underlying causes of pain and develop better treatment plans for those experiencing it. Here are three of the most common risk factors in individuals that may cause them to experience more persistent pain.

Sleep Problems

Those who experience insomnia, inability to sleep through the night, sleep apnea, or other disruptive symptoms are more likely to experience persistent pain after an injury or illness. They are also less able to deal with the pain and seek out more medical intervention. This could be connected to their lack of restorative deep sleep that can improve both pain symptoms and coping mechanisms.

Illness Attitude

Illness attitude can be characterized by ‘health anxiety’ or ‘illness behavior’. Health anxiety is experienced by patients when they chronically worry about whether they will get sick in the future. Illness behavior occurs when patients repeatedly go to doctors or hospitals for perceived illnesses or other physical complaints. Health anxiety and illness behavior both negatively impacted an individual’s ability to deal with chronic pain. Patients who were identified as having an illness attitude experienced more persistent pain than their counterparts.

Anxiety and Depression

Those who experienced chronic depression or generalized anxiety disorder were also more likely to experience persistent pain due to an illness or injury. Pain and depression tend to work together to cause a downward spiral in patients. Those who are depressed experience more pain and the more pain they experience, the more depressed they get. Anxiety can come from anticipating pain and those who are prone to anxiety disorders tend to also have fewer coping skills than those who are not.

Identifying risk factors associated with the development of persistent pain is important for pain management specialists so they can identify underlying causes and develop treatments that address both the physical pain and the factors that could be contributing to the pain in certain individuals.

If you are experiencing chronic pain and would like more information, please visit our website or contact one of our pain specialists today.