WHAT IS PAIN SCIENCE EDUCATION
Pain science education (PSE) is an evidence-based treatment that focuses on teaching people in pain more about the biological and physiological processes involved in their pain experience. Chronic pain is often associated with changes in the nervous system that can mean that pain lasts, long after it is useful to have it, and even after the initial injury or tissue damage has healed. By helping you understand more about your body and the different factors that might be causing or maintaining your pain, PSE aims to help reduce the fear and anxiety associated with it and improve your ability to cope with pain. PSE may include information on how pain and your nervous system works, what other body systems might be joining the party and what strategies might be useful to manage your pain. PSE is as effective as paracetamol at reducing pain, and there is very little risk of harm! It is most useful when combined with exercise or activity and the aim is always to get you back to the life you want to live.
WHAT WILL A TYPICAL SESSION OF PAIN SCIENCE EDUCATION INVOLVE?
A typical session of pain science education (PSE) usually involves a conversation with your doctor or therapist, who might use drawings, videos, stories and even props to help you understand what is going on in your body and specifically your nervous system. It is important to remember that, although it might feel like you are just having a chat, this is a powerful treatment.
Some core concepts your doctor or
therapist might explain:
PAIN IS PERSONAL AND ALWAYS REAL, BUT SOMETIMES IT IS MORE ABOUT YOUR NERVOUS SYSTEM THAN ABOUT YOUR MUSCLES AND JOINTS
PAIN AND TISSUE DAMAGE ARE POORLY RELATED – HURT DOES NOT ALWAYS EQUAL HARM
PAIN IS ABOUT HOW DANGEROUS YOUR BRAIN THINKS SOMETHING MIGHT BE TO YOUR SURVIVAL
THERE IS A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN ACUTE AND CHRONIC PAIN. ACUTE PAIN IS USEFUL AND PROTECTIVE, CHRONIC PAIN IS NO LONGER USEFUL
IN CHRONIC PAIN, HURT DOES NOT ALWAYS MEAN THERE IS
SOMETHING SERIOUSLY WRONG
PAIN IS MOSTLY ABOUT YOUR NERVOUS SYSTEM AND HOW SENSITIVE IT HAS BECOME
OTHER BODY SYSTEMS AND CONTEXTUAL FACTORS CAN CHANGE YOUR PAIN
THE SENSITIVITY OF THE NERVOUS SYSTEM CAN CHANGE
THERE ARE LOTS OF THINGS YOU CAN DO TO RESET YOUR NERVOUS SYSTEM AND OPEN THE MEDICATION CABINET IN YOUR BRAIN!
Once you have a good understanding of your body, your nerves and your pain, your doctor or therapist will discuss with you what strategies you can start using to manage you pain.
They might set some achievable goals with you to start adding some of the bits of life that pain has stolen from you, and they might give you some reading material, videos or other resources to go through on your own.
Sometimes it takes a few sessions before you understand all of the concepts that might be useful for you. Your doctor or therapist will explain things as many times as you need, until you feel comfortable that you know what to do next.
When you have any illness, it is often the fear of the unknown that is the most difficult – and we learn that pain must mean there is something wrong. This is not always true! Learning about the underlying cause of your pain and that it might be more about how your nerves are responding (like a faulty alarm system), than about the amount of damage, can help to reduce fear and anxiety. Learning about pain and what we can do about it provides a sense of control and hope, and helps you manage your pain. PSE doesn't just change the way you think, it actually reduces your pain! If you are less scared, feel more in control and start having the confidence to do more, your body will start to heal itself and reset your faulty alarm system. PSE, and specifically goal setting, can help you get back to doing the things you love, which improves your mood, your quality of life and give you back your self-worth and dignity. PSE also reduces stress, which in turn reduces pain – it's a win-win situation. PSE provides practical benefits for people living with pain by reducing fear and anxiety, improving self-efficacy, reducing pain intensity and disability, and improving function and quality of life.