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Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Cartesian Model and Gate Control Model of Pain

Living with chronic pain is extremely difficult. With new research have come new ideas and understanding about how pain works. Sadly physicians, people in general, medical personnel etc. are still being taught an outdated model for pain. That model is the Cartesian Model of Pain. This basically says that all pain is a direct result of tissue damage/injury and every person will respond in the exact same manner to the same injury. In other words a broken bone gives a certain amount of pain and every person will have the same amount of pain as a result of that injury.

Research has proven this to not be true. PET scans and fMRI's have shown that the parts of the brain responsible for pain sensations light up even when no specific injury/illness can be found for that patient. The Gate Control Model Of Pain (by Ronald Melzack and Patrick Wall) says there is a gate, the spinal cord, which allows pain signals to travel to the brain. When that gate is closed, no pain signals get through. When it is open, pain signals get through. Further they have shown that the gate can be opened by injury, emotions, mood, thoughts and memories.

The Gate Control Model makes sense to me simply based on my own experiences with my pain. Most CP (Chronic Pain) patients know that stress, levels of high emotions, focusing mentally on their pain and more directly affect their pain levels. We often tell each other about how high stress levels, anxiety, depression and more will increase our pain. We say this because we have experienced it. I know that when I get angry, my pain rises. I recognize that when I am angry my body tenses resulting in my muscles tightening which leads to spasms, pressure on the injured areas and results in an increase in my pain.

Despite the research showing that psychological and social factors contribute to a patient's experience with pain, most physicians and other medical professionals, still work under the Cartesian Model because that is what they are taught in school. Most physicians do not receive training in chronic pain, or pain management. Instead they are taught the scientific method and as a result see pain as a cause and effect only so far as physical disease/injury (cause) results in pain (effect). Many do not realize that other issues also effect pain. This is not good as the result is that people who live in chronic pain are not receiving the optimal therapy for their pain. They are not being taught things that will help them manage their pain.

It doesn't help that most people also have outdated ideas of how to deal with chronic pain. We are not taught that chronic pain exists. Most people's experience with pain is acute pain. You sprain your ankle, rest it and allow it to heal. This works for acute injury, but does not work for chronic pain. In fact this method of dealing with chronic pain will make the pain worse. Included in the area of what works for acute pain but not chronic pain are "no pain no gain" and "push through it". These beliefs actually cause more mental anguish and suffering for chronic pain patients.

Chronic pain is affected by the original injury or disease (and progression of same), the people around you, your own thoughts/beliefs about pain, and more. So far the most effective treatments for chronic pain have included methods which include all these areas, rather than choosing one or two and ignoring the rest. Many do not believe that mood (for example) affects pain but consider this: You have had a bad day at work, your mood is not good, and by the time you get home you have a headache. Most people have experienced this. Part of the reason is that the area of our brains which control our emotions, is one of the areas that lights up in response to pain signals. In a person with chronic pain those stressful emotions can trigger pain signals and vice versa.

Ok, this entry has focused on factual information. Now I am going to write a more personal entry.

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Thank you for taking the time to read and/or comment on my blog. For people who are chronically ill and/or in constant pain, it can be difficult to socialize as frequently as we would like to do so. Talking with others online is a way for us to socialize, chat with others, make new friends, reach out to others in similar circumstances and many more positive effects.

Knowing that someone has read my posts and commented on it, helps in many ways. The biggest two being that it helps ease the feeling of being "alone" and that no one could possibly understand. Secondly, it reminds us that others truly do care and that just feels wonderful!!

Thank you very much for taking the time to read and/or comment on my blog, it really does mean a great deal to me and is helpful too!