Nature and Symptoms of Pain
DESCRIPTION AND CATEGORIES OF PAIN
Two main categories of pain
1. Acute - is a relatively brief sensation, usually less than six months duration - usually a response to a specific trauma - forms the basis for danger warnings and subsequent learning.
2. Chronic - lasts more than six months - exists beyond the time for normal organic healing The pain begins to impair other functions Patients may begin to experience learned helplessness and hopelessness this leads to the classic signs of depression (lethargy, sleep disturbance, weight loss) May quit work and adopt a self imposed invalid existence.
Categories of Chronic Pain
*Chronic recurrent pain -- benign condition consisting of intense pain alternating with pain-free periods. eg, Migraine, Tension headaches, Endometriosis
* Chronic intractable-benign pain -- benign condition where pain is persistent with no pain free periods, although the pain may vary in intensity eg low back pain.
* Chronic Progressive Pain --malignant condition where pain is continuous and increases in intensity as the organic condition (disease) worsens eg. Cancer and rheumatoid arthritis
THE PHYSIOLOGY OF PAIN
The organic (disease) side of the pain continuum
This involves some stimulus to the bodies pain receptors and transmission of the pain experience through special nerve pathways to the brain.
These are bare sensory nerve endings that network throughout all organs and tissues of the body (except the brain)
They respond to many types of stimuli eg extremes of temperature, lacerations, or anything that is potentially damaging to the tissue.When actual injury occurs, Bradykinin (the most potent pain producing chemical/enzyme known) is released from the damaged cells. This bradykinin attaches to the pain receptors (free nerve endings) causing them to transmit pain impulses.
Neural Pathways in Pain
These painful impulses travel to the central nervous system through two different fibres
1. The fibres that transmit impulses quickly are called A-delta fibres. The types of sensations they carry are localised, sharp, pricking, brief sensations.
2. The fibres that transmit impulses more slowly are called C fibres. The types of sensations they carry are dull, burning, aching, longer lasting sensations.
Both these fibres send impulses by releasing a transmission agent called Substance P. Both fibres (A-delta and C) follow a similar pathway up the spinal cord until they reach the Brain C fibres end in the lower regions of the forebrain whereas a-delta fibres go straight onto the motor and sensory areas of the cortex.
The lower regions of the forebrain do not assess the pain signals as dramatically as the motor and sensory areas of the cortex. The cortex provides immediate attention for the sharp localised pain signals, whereas the c fibres carrying dull aching pain signals are assessed more from an emotional/motivational perspective in the forebrain.
Canadian woman who felt no pain (Melzack and Wall, 1996) See Harari and Legge pp63-4
Good thing? -- Not really - led to an early death.
Pain is literally a lifesaver, alerting the brain to physical harm. "Pain is the body's smoke alarm," says Robert Coghill, a neurophysiologist at the National Institutes of Health. Victims of congenital analgesia, a rare condition that leaves them unable to feel pain, hurt themselves without knowing it, bending their joints to the point of tearing ligaments, or walking on a damaged bone until it breaks. They usually die by the time they are in their 30s from injuries they never felt, their bodies scarred from head to toe.
Serious injury (e.g. loss of limb) - little pain felt.
6 characteristics (Melzack and Wall 1988).
Carlen et al (1978) - Israeli soldiers - Yom Kippur War. Loss of arm - 'bang', 'thump' or 'blow'. Melzack, wall and Ty (1982) - 37% of accident victims reported the experience of episodic analgesia.
The occurrence of body-wide pain in the absence of tissue damage, as in fibromyalgia, interferes with all aspects of a person's life and undermines their credibility. The problem is that normal activities can be exhausting, sleep is disturbed, the ability to concentrate is impaired, gastrointestinal function is often abnormal, persistent headaches are common, and the unrelenting pain that no one can see is often detrimental to their personal and professional lives--as it creates a "credibility gap."
Neuralgia - sharp pain along a nerve pathway. Causalgia - burning pain Both develop after wound or disease has ended. Triggered by a simple stimulus e.g. breeze or vibration. Physiological cause of headaches not known. Melzack and Wall (1988) report that migraine causes dilation of blood vessels, not the other way around! Pain out of proportion to the injury Some cancers produce little pain until they are advanced. (Serious illness, little pain). Kidney stones are not serious, but produce excruciating pain.
Purpose of pain
1. Prevents serious damage. If you touch something hot, you are forced to withdraw your hand before it gets seriously burnt.
but pain can become the problem, and cause people to want to die.
Not just the cut nerve endings (neuromas) sending messages to the brain, because cuts made along the neural pathways only produce a temporary relief from pain.
Connections to this neuromatrix - sensory systems, emotional and motivational systems. It is the emotional and motivational systems that cause the phantom limb experience.
Neuromatrix pre-wired - young amputees experience phantom limb pain.
People born without limbs also experience phantom limb pain.
Pain and touch sensors on the skin are wired to a pain centre in the brain. This theory is biological and does not account for any psychological factors in the pain experience. Pain receptors carry the painful sensation directly to the brain, and any emotions displayed as part of the experience are merely reactions to the initial pain stimulus.This theory does not account for pain when there is no organic basis for the pain. For example, cannot account for a footballer playing till the end of a match unaware that he may have a broken ankle until the game is over. In this case there is an organic basis for pain but it is not felt until the person gives time to focus attention on the painful area.
Problem (Melzack and Wall, 1988). Even though the senses can be in contact with pain, we do not feel it; and Vice versa - gentle touch can trigger a painful reaction (Neuralgia and Causalgia).
Neurography - an attempt to map nerve cells with specific areas of the body.
Pain conducting nerves are shared with other sensory nerves- pattern of activity from the nerve cells dictates how the pattern is interpreted.
Proposed by Melzack and Wall in the 1960's
Gate opened or closed by 3 factors (Banyard p160)
Conditions that open the gate
Conditions that close the gate
Extent of the injury
Inappropriate activity level
Counterstimulation, eg massage
Anxiety or worry
Focusing on the pain
Intense concentration or distraction
Involvement and interest in life activities
Evidence on the Gate-Control Theory
Reynolds (1969) found that rats electrically stimulated in the periaqueductal gray area were able to tolerate pain (a clamp applied to their tails). Morphine works by acting directly on the periaqueductal gray area. It is thought this area works by sending signals down from the brain in order to close the gate.
Stimulation to the brainstem is known as stimulation-produced analgesia (SPA). Pain fibres produce substance P, in order for the pain signal to cross the nerve synapse. SPA causes another chemical to block substance P.
The body produces endogenous opioids that act as a natural analgesic. Endogenous opioids can be tested by using naloxone. This drug can counteract the analgesia produced by the endogenous opioids. It is thought the endogenous opioids can be produced by electrical stimulation-produced analgesia (SPA). Naloxone blocks the analgesic effect of SPA so it is thought that endogenous opioids are produced by SPA (Akil et al 1976). Injecting Naloxone into patients after dental treatment increases their pain (Levine et al 1978). Naloxone does not always block SPA, it depends upon where the electrical stimulation is applied within the periaqueductal grey area.
Melzack and Wall conclude:
The effect of endogenous opioids on pain may be dependent upon how long the pain lasts. Morphine taken to relieve short episodes of pain, tolerance develops quickly. When morphine is given to patients suffering from long-term pain (e.g. cancer) they do not develop tolerance (Melzack and Wall, 1982).
In times of stress, for example in sport or on the battlefield, endogenous opioids are released (Bloom et al 1985). This will explain why soldiers can fight on with little pain, even though they are severely injured.
Personal and Social Experiences and Pain.
Migraine sufferers display stronger physiological arousal to words associated with pain than non-sufferers (Jamner & Tursky 1987). This demonstrates classical conditioning. The symptoms of the onset of migraine become associated with the migraine, thus causing the pain to be experienced more strongly.
Pain can bring secondary gains
Patients who received compensation stayed in hospital longer and took longer to return to work (Block et al 1980).
Attention received from relatives also affects pain behaviour.
Karen Gil et al (1988) observed parents with children who had a skin disease. The doctor had advised the child not to scratch the skin, which was itchy. Parents who gave more attention to the scratching behaviour seemed to be encouraging the behaviour, because scratching increased!
Flor et al 1987) found that patients with spouses who gave attention to pain behaviours also seemed to be encouraging the behaviours!
Block et al (1980) found that patients reported more pain in an interview if they knew their spouse was watching behind a one-way mirror and their spouse was concerned about their pain.
Two complementary brain-imaging studies, one British, the other American,
have furthered our understanding of pain and the brain. Researchers at UCL
in London, led by Tania Singer, observed the brain scans of 16 women while
they received a painful shock to their hand, compared with when they saw
the shock being applied to their partner's hand. A subset of the same brain
areas that were activated when the women experienced pain, were also
activated when they knew their partner was suffering, namely the anterior
cingulate cortex, the insula, brainstem and cerebellum. These areas
underlie the emotional aspect of pain rather than the sensory component.
Moreover, the amount of activity that occurred in these brain regions when
their partner was receiving a shock, correlated with the women's scores on
empathy questionnaires. The authors said our ability to represent what
other people are feeling has probably evolved from the brain's system for
representing our own bodily states and feelings.
Meanwhile, a team based at the University of Michigan led by Tor Wager,
gave people a cream that they said would reduce the pain of the shock they
were about to experience. Actually the cream was ineffectual - a placebo.
They then scanned the participants' brains while they received the shock,
with or without the cream. The researchers found the cream led to reduced
levels of activity in those areas of the brain associated with the
experience of pain. Moreover, the participants said the shock hurt less
with the cream. This finding provides robust evidence that the 'placebo
effect' is not 'all in the mind', it's in the brain too.
Singer, T., Seymour, B., O'Doherty, J., Kaube, H., Dolan, R. & Frith, C.
(2004). Empathy for pain involves the affective but not sensory components
of pain. Science, 303, 1157-1162.
Wager, T.D., Rilling, J.K., Smith, E.E., Sokolik, A., Casey, K.L.,
Davidson, R.J., Kosslyn, S.M., Rose, R.M. & Cohen, J.D. (2004).
Placebo-induced changes in fMRI in the anticipation and experience of pain.
Science, 303, 1162-1167.
Journal weblink: http://www.sciencemag.org/
The Fuctional Imaging Lab in London: http://www.fil.ion.ucl.ac.uk/
Melzack (1973) presents evidence of the way in which culture can affect the experience of pain. In some remote Indian villages, an annual hook swinging ceremony takes place. Two steel hooks are placed into the lower back of a youth who is to experience the ceremony. He is then hoisted on to a pole and transported from village to village. During the whole of this process the youth displays no pain whatsoever, despite what must appear to be excruciating pain. Of course, we are unable to measure the degree of pain experienced and can only infer from the youth’s reaction that little pain was present. However, there are observable cultural differences in response to pain.
Zborowski (1969) reports that behavioural expressions of pain differ among ethnic groups of patients in medical settings. The differences were thought to be due to the attitudes and values of the ethnic groups. Third-generation Americans tended to respond to the pain in a matter of fact way, and acted as if they should be ‘good, uncomplaining patients’. The Irish were similar in their pain expressions, but their suffering was communicated to observers. On the other hand, more overt responses to the pain were forthcoming from Italian and Jewish subcultures. The Italians felt that pain had to be avoided at all costs, and their expressions were aimed at the elimination of the pain. The Jewish group were more concerned with the memory of pain and its implications.
The idea that culture in its broadest terms affects the expression of pain and the view that health professionals should be aware of these differences is laudable, but care must be taken to avoid falling into the trap of stereotyping patients’ pain responses on the basis of their cultural origin. Davitz & Davitz (1985) said that if nurses are asked directly about the question of cultural stereotypes and pain, they resent any implication that they operate on the basis of cultural stereotypes. To find out whether nurses are influenced by stereotypes they presented American nurses with a brief vignette describing an adult patient.
Name of patient: Michael O’Hara
Michael O’Hara, struck by an automobile, was admitted to the hospital with a fractured femur and facial injuries. Currently in traction, he is to remain hospitalised for an indefinite period.
The experimenters first of all varied the cultural background of the person, so that each patient had the same physical condition, age and sex but a different ethnic background. The six ethnic background variables were: Oriental, Mediterranean, Black, Spanish, Anglo-Saxon, Germanic and Jewish. They also investigated varying the severity of the illness (mild, moderate and severe). The mean ratings of physical pain and psychological distress for each group of patients and for each level of severity of illness were measured.
For both physical pain and psychological distress, nurses believed that Jewish and Spanish patients suffered most, while Oriental and Anglo-Saxon/Germanic patients suffered the least. Jewish patients were perceived as suffering relatively greater pain and psychological distress in cases of psychiatric and cardiovascular illnesses.
Davitz & Davitz (1985) say:
The results of this research clearly indicate that one aspect of American nurses’ belief systems about suffering involves the ethnic or religious backgrounds of their patients. In discussing our research with nurses, we have found that some nurses react defensively to our findings. They strenuously insist that they never generalise, that they treat all patients as individuals. That may indeed be the case for particular nurses, but our data do indicate that in general, American nurses in fact tend to share certain generalised beliefs about patients.
To summarise, whilst one cannot objectively measure the experience of pain, the fact that people in excruciating circumstances do not seem to be in pain due to the social nature of the event suggests that culture may indeed affect the pain experience. Secondly, there does seem to be consistent evidence that people from different cultures and subcultures respond to pain in overtly different ways. Thirdly, health professionals hold stereotypical views of pain.
Emotions, Coping Processes, and Pain
Kent (1985) found that dental patients who reported anxiety, also reported higher levels of pain immediately after treatment and reported four times the original level of pain three months later. Low anxiety patients remembered levels that were less than twice the original levels.
Type A stress people tend to suffer more from chronic headache (DeBenedittis et al 1990).
Gannon et al (1987) balanced three groups for gender and age. The three groups consisted of:
Chronic migraine patients
Chronic muscle-contraction patients
Occasional headache patients.
They were given a stressful time by being asked to solve difficult mental arithmetic problems at a rate of one every fifteen seconds. A warning buzzer would go off from time to time indicating a 'drop in performance' (it wasn't really related to performance). Two-thirds of the chronic sufferers experienced a headache as a result of the stress, whereas only a quarter of the occasional headache patients experienced headaches.
Walding (1991) found that there was a relationship between pain, anxiety and perceived powerlessness. She suggested that each of the three factors affected each other and that a decreasing perception of powerlessness lessened the postoperative pain, experience. Bond (1971) studied 52 women with cancer of the cervix to see how their personality traits and attitudes to disease related to the pain they felt and to their complaints. He found that pain-free patients were less emotional and more sociable, while patients experiencing pain but not complaining of it were emotional but not sociable. The patients who were both sociable and emotional experienced and complained of considerable pain and received most attention. Further research by Bond et al (1976) has indicated that introverts are more sensitive to pain stimuli, but extroverts complain more at lower levels of pain.
Finally, Connolly et al (1978) investigated the relationship between personality, anxiety and pain during the labour of childbirth. The sample of 80 women was given the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory and their pain/anxiety levels were monitored during the labour. Not surprisingly, pain and anxiety levels rose during the course of the labour. Pain and anxiety were similar for normal and ‘hysterical’ MMPI groups but the ‘anxious—depressive’ MMPI groups displayed higher levels of pain and anxiety. Sternbach (1968) reviewed several studies that had investigated the relationship between anxiety and pain. He concluded that increasing anxiety enhanced pain responses, and decreasing anxiety reduced such responses.
Ouch! Men have a higher pain threshold than women
It's a question that continues to cause friction between the sexes: who has
the higher pain threshold? Now one of the most detailed investigations of
its kind has reported that it's men who have the higher threshold, but only
at 5 of 12 of the pairs of pressure points investigated (thresholds were the
same for both sexes at the other points).
Of course, a huge caveat looms over any research like this which requires
participants to report subjectively when they are experiencing pain - for
example, given gender expectations, men could just be holding out for longer
before they admit to being in pain.
Notwithstanding that possibility, Esmeralda Garcia and colleagues used a
device to apply pressure to 12 pairs of pressure points on the bodies of 12
men and 18 women. Nine of these pairs of points were the so-called 'tender
points' used to diagnose fibromyalgia, on each side of the body.
The three remaining pairs of control points were on the palm, the lower leg
As the pressure on these points was increased, the participants were asked
to indicate when they first experienced pain, as distinct from
unpleasantness or discomfort. Testing took place again after 15 minutes and
then for a third time a week later.
Men showed greater pain thresholds at all three of the pairs of control
points and two of the pairs of tender points. The researchers said the fact
the presence of gender differences depended on pressure point location could
explain why so much earlier research has produced inconsistent results, with
some studies finding gender differences and others not.
There was also a gender difference in how pain sensitivity varied across the
testing sessions. Both sexes showed lowered thresholds at the second testing
session, but whereas this persisted to the final session among the women,
the men's sensitivity had by this time returned to baseline.
"It would be interesting to see if this pattern persists when the menstrual
cycle of women is controlled for, which may have been one of the sources of
the differences in the final session," the researchers said.
Garcia, E., Godoy-Izquierdo, D., Godoy, J.F., Perez, M. & Lopez-Chicheri, I.
(2007). Gender differences in pressure pain threshold in a repeated measures
assessment. Psychology, Health and Medicine, 12, 567-579.
Author weblink: http://tinyurl.com/35zlmk