Question: My name is Cindy, and I've had chronic back pain for twelve years as a result of an accident. How far away are we from a complete understanding of the biological basis of pain in the body?
Answer: Cindy, thanks for your question. It's a great question. Let me try and help you get an answer.
I'm sorry that you've had pain for so long. I wish we knew more about the mechanisms of pain. We're getting there, we're trying really hard. If it was a marathon, we're about halfway there -- believe it or not. We know more about outer space than we do about how our brain functions work, let alone how our pain system works. Keep in mind that pain ultimately is a tool used by our bodies to survive. If I go out and twist my ankle, my brain says I hurt. I stay off my ankle, I heal, I survive.
What we don't understand completely is chronic pain. Why should you feel pain everyday for twelve years? Why? It serves no purpose except to torture you.
What we are finding out is that there are changes that occur in our nervous system, in the mechanism that transmits pain signals, where it can become a pathologic state, meaning that there are things going on that don't really need to go on, but for some reason, you're unfortunate enough to have this stuff going on.
Give us some time, a few more years, you'll see a lot of interesting discoveries coming out about pain, and how it can help you.