Ever lived with a smoke alarm in the kitchen that had a hair trigger? The kind where you cook anything for longer than 5 minutes and the alarm sounds, sending everyone in the house flying to open windows and doors to shut the racket off?
The problem with an alarm system that is predictably over-sensitive is that it stops generating the intended response. No one flees the house to safeguard themselves from an impending fire after a dozen false alarms. Adaptation occurs very quickly, and response turns into frustration. The result of this is simple – ignore the alarm.
What can this aggravating experience teach us about pain? First of all, fire alarms are super motivating because they can be painfully loud. And just like that alarm, nothing motivates like pain. It is nature’s original and primary motivator. It is a signal that says “time to do something differently because there is a problem.”
And that is where pain comes in. Pain tells us that a certain threshold of damage has occurred, and tells us in a way that is very hard to ignore. But the second important thing to understand about pain is it is usually a late indication that a problem has occurred – the opposite of what most people think. Which is that pain is a real-time, comprehensive, universal problem detecting system. Which it is not.
It is understandable that we often think that pain is reporting any and all issues, because it is capable of being such a strong signal. But just like that fire alarm lost its utility from being overly sensitive, pain would be the same way. If everything hurt all of the time, it loses its specificity as a signal, and as a guide as to what to do.
This is exactly why the most important view of pain is as a strong signal to be paid attention to, that something already has happened. Unfortunately, our culture tells us the opposite, that any initial bout of pain should be ignored or covered up. Look at pain as an important signal that should be used to guide behavior. Not running in panic to shut off the signal. This simple shift in thinking can solve problems using this sequence:
- what is damaged
- stop damaging it
- correct the damage that was caused (ie, chiropractic adjustments).
For those interested in more than just controlling symptoms, but actually addressing the cause, give them this simple system to help those in your life understand that pain is a signal to make changes, instead of panicking and running to shut them off. There are so many avenues in which chiropractic care can help – cleaning up the damage that was caused, but even more importantly, in teaching that we should address the cause rather than silence the alarm.