The Pain That Will Be No More
THE pain that will be eliminated in fulfillment of the Bible’s promise will be the pain that is experienced as a result of the first man’s imperfection. This pain includes what can be described as chronic pain.
Rather than being a warning system for disease or injury, chronic pain has been likened to a “false alarm” that just won’t turn off. It is this pain that causes sufferers to spend billions of dollars annually in a quest for relief, and it ruins the lives of millions.
Pain expert Dr. Richard A. Sternbach wrote: “Unlike acute pain, chronic pain is not a symptom; chronic pain is not a warning signal.” Emergency Medicine emphasized: “There’s no purpose at all to chronic pain.”
Thus, many doctors in recent years have come to view such pain as a genuine affliction in itself. “In acute pain the pain is a symptom of disease or injury,” explains Dr. John J. Bonica in The Management of Pain, today’s standard text on pain. “In chronic pain the pain itself is the disease.”
Efforts to Understand Pain
Pain is still not fully understood. “The eternal allure of trying to puzzle out what pain is,” said American Health magazine, “has scientists working intensely.” A few decades ago, they assumed that pain was a form of sensation, like sight, hearing, and touch, that is felt by special nerve endings in the skin and is transmitted through particular nerve fibers to the brain. But this simplistic concept of pain was found to be untrue. How?
One factor that led to the new insight was the study of a young woman who had no sense of pain. Following her death in 1955, an examination of her brain and nervous system led to a whole new concept of the cause of pain. Doctors “looked for the nerve endings,” explained The Star Weekly Magazine, July 30, 1960. “If [she] didn’t have any, that would account for the girl’s insensitivity. But they were present and apparently perfect.
“Next, the doctors examined the nerve fibers supposed to connect the nerve endings with the brain. Here, surely, a defect would be found. But it wasn’t. The fibers were all perfect, as far as could be seen, aside from those degenerated due to injury.
“Finally, examinations were made of the girl’s brain and, once more, no defect of any kind could be established. According to all existing knowledge and theory, this girl should have felt pain normally, yet she couldn’t even feel tickling.” She was, however, sensitive to pressure when applied to the skin and could distinguish between the touch of a pin head and a pin point, although the pricking of the pin did not hurt.
Ronald Melzack, who in the 1960’s coauthored a popular new theory to explain pain, provides another example of its complexity. He explained: “Mrs. Hull kept pointing to her foot that wasn’t there [it had been amputated], and describing burning pains that felt like a red-hot poker being pushed through her toes.” Melzack told Maclean’s magazine in 1989 that he was “still looking for explanations of what he calls ‘phantom’ pain.” In addition, there is what is called referred pain, in which a person may have a malfunction in one part of the body but feel the pain in another.
Both Mind and Body Involved
Pain is now identified as “an extremely complex interaction of the mind and the body.” In her 1992 book Pain in America, Mary S. Sheridan says that “the experience of pain is so heavily psychological that the mind can sometimes deny its existence and sometimes create and sustain it long after an acute injury is gone.”
One’s mood, concentration, personality, susceptibility to suggestion, and other factors are all important in how one responds to pain. “Fear and anxiety cause an exaggerated response,” noted pain authority Dr. Bonica. Thus, one may learn to sense pain. Dr. Wilbert Fordyce, a professor of psychology who specializes in problems of pain, explains:
“The question is not whether the pain is real. Of course it is real. The question is what are the crucial factors which influence it. If I talk with you just before dinner about a ham sandwich, you salivate. It is very real. But it occurs because of conditioning. There’s no ham sandwich there. Human beings are exquisitely sensitive to conditioning. It influences social behavior, salivating, blood pressure, the speed of digesting food, pain, all sorts of things.”
Just as your emotions and frame of mind can intensify pain, they can suppress or dull it. Consider an example: A neurosurgeon said that as a youth he was once so enamored of a girl while sitting with her on an icy wall that he felt no sensation of severe cold or pain in his rump. “I was almost frostbitten,” he explained. “We must have been sitting there for 45 minutes, and I didn’t feel a thing.”
Such examples are manifold. Football players involved deeply in the game or soldiers in the heat of battle may be badly injured and yet feel little or no pain at the time. The famous African explorer David Livingstone told of being attacked by a lion that shook him “as a terrier does a rat. The shock . . . caused a sort of dreaminess in which there was no sense of pain.”
It is noteworthy that servants of Jehovah God, who calmly look to him with complete confidence and reliance, have also at times had the experience of their pain being suppressed. “Strange as it might seem,” reported a Christian who was beaten, “after the first few blows, I really didn’t feel them anymore. Instead, it was as if I could only hear them, like the beating of a drum off in the distance.”—February 22, 1994, Awake!, page 21.
How Pain Sensations Are Modified
In an attempt to explain some of the mystifying aspects of pain, in 1965 a professor of psychology, Ronald Melzack, and a professor of anatomy, Patrick Wall, devised the widely acclaimed gate-control theory of pain. The 1990 edition of Dr. Bonica’s textbook on pain said that this theory was “among the most important developments in the field of pain research and therapy.”
According to the theory, the opening and closing of a theoretical gate in the spinal cord either permits or blocks passage of pain signals to the brain. If sensations other than pain crowd the gate, then pain signals reaching the brain may be diminished. Thus, for example, pain is lessened by rubbing or shaking a slightly burned finger, since signals other than those of pain are thereby sent to the spinal cord to interfere with the passage of pain signals.
The discovery in 1975 that our bodies produce their own morphinelike substances called endorphins further helped in the search to understand the mystifying aspects of pain. For instance, some people may have little or no sensation of pain because they produce endorphins in excess. Endorphins may also explain the mystery of why pain is minimized or even eliminated by acupuncture, a medical procedure in which hair-thin needles are inserted into the body. According to eyewitness reports, open-heart surgery has been performed while the patient was awake, alert, and relaxed by utilizing acupuncture as the only painkiller! Why was no pain felt?
Some believe the needles may activate the production of endorphins that temporarily wipe out the pain. Another possibility is that acupuncture kills pain because the needles stimulate nerve fibers that send signals other than pain. These signals crowd gates in the spinal cord, preventing the pain signals from squeezing through to reach the brain, where pain is sensed.
The gate-control theory, and the fact that the body produces its own painkillers, may also explain why one’s mood, thoughts, and emotions affect the measure of pain felt. Thus, the shock of a sudden attack by a lion may have activated Livingstone’s production of endorphins, as well as flooded his spinal cord with signals other than those of pain. His feelings of pain, as a result, were lessened.
Yet, as noted before, one’s frame of mind and emotions can have an opposite effect. Too much of the everyday stress of typical modern life may increase a person’s sensation of pain by producing anxiety, tension, and muscle contractions.
Happily, though, pain sufferers have reason for optimism. This is because many patients are now benefiting from improved methods of treatment. Such improvements have resulted from a better understanding of this terrible affliction. Dr. Sridhar Vasudevan, president of the American Academy of Pain Medicine, explained: “The idea that pain can sometimes be a disease in itself revolutionized treatment in the ’80s.”
How has the treatment of pain been revolutionized? What treatments are proving effective?
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How does acupuncture minimize or eliminate pain?
H. Armstrong Roberts