Pain-Physical and Existential2022-10-30
Chronic pain is not all about the body, and it’s not all about the brain. It’s everything. Target everything. Take back your life.
—Sean Mackey, MD, PhD
Physical pain is a perception of current or past damage to our body. It serves a useful role in terms of alerting to the need for action to avoid future injury and limiting the use of that damaged part of the body until it heals. In some instances, pain can last too long, be too intense, and even persist after the physical injury has healed, like a form of learned avoidance or PTSD, that we call in my group PTPD (post-traumatic pain disorder).
Psychic (existential) pain is less well appreciated and defined, but similar to physical pain, it is a perception of current or past damage to our life. It serves similar roles in terms of alerting to the need for action to avoid future damage, and limiting certain life activities until that damaged area heals. Pathologically, psychic pain too can last too long, be too intense, and persist after the life injury has healed, as a learned avoidance. It is in fact PTSD.
Physical and psychic pain can decrease quality and even quantity of life, leading to addictions, violent outbursts, or suicides. As such, it is important to assess pain precisely, and treat it properly, in ways that do not create additional problems.
We and others have developed some tools that might be helpful. Our Life x Mind app quantitatively tracks physical pain and its interference with daily activities. It also tracks stress, of relevance to psychic pain. We have also developed blood tests for pain, and for stress, that provide objective information, and match people to proper, non-addictive, treatments, in a personalized way. Lastly, we have developed tools to evaluate and mitigate suicide risk. Suicide is an unfortunate outcome of untreated physical and psychic pain.
While a pain-free life is not possible or even desirable, excessive or chronic pain should be proactively treated and prevented.
Live. Happier. Longer.