Why Do I Hurt, And Is Pain A Good Thing?

Dr. Edward Paul answers the question: 'Why Do I Hurt, And Is Pain A Good Thing?'

ByABC News
November 13, 2008, 3:17 PM

— -- Question: Why Does My Body Hurt, And Could Pain Be A Good Thing?

Answer: Pain is useful in a number of different ways, and why our bodies hurt and why pain is important are for a number of reasons, and I'll give some examples as I go. But, you know, pain alerts us to the fact that something is not correct physiologically with our bodies, and in a number of ways it's a good thing, in that it alerts us to something, for example, like structural damage or pinching of nerves in the back. It could be a sign of infection, such as an abscess in the leg, that all of a sudden starts to hurt and causes acute pain. Or it might be a person who's had previous back surgeries where pain all of a sudden recurs and then becomes a warning sign that something may have changed or slipped or maybe a new fracture has occurred, so there's a reason for it.

In primary care practice our goal is often not to make pain completely go away, whether we're treating chronic pain or acute pain, because we really want to know what's happening with the body, and what the person's sensing in relation to the process that's causing the pain. A good example is a person in an emergency room who comes in with abdominal pain. Our goal is not to make the pain go away as we're trying to make the diagnosis, but rather to, perhaps, observe that patient over the course of 12 or 24 hours to see if the pain gets worse or if the pain completely goes away on its own, because that will give us an indication as to what the diagnosis is and then how to proceed.

So pain is a good thing in the sense it alerts us to different disease processes, but acute pain is very unpleasant for most people, acute or chronic pain. And our goal is often to come to a middle road where we're trying to control it, yet allow people to function in their lives.

Next: What Is Chronic Pain And How Does It Differ From Acute Pain?