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Pain treatment myths

Pain is a complex phenomenon that consists of several interconnected factors. : Michael Joiner, 360info CC BY 4.0 Pain is a complex phenomenon that consists of several interconnected factors. : Michael Joiner, 360info CC BY 4.0

Chronic pain affects 30 percent of all people, making it the number one reason for a visit to the doctor. 360info explores the myths of treating it.

Pain is a mysterious thing. Despite having fully healed from injury, many people continue to experience pain. When it lasts three months or more, it’s described as “chronic pain” and doctors are starting to believe it’s a separate condition from the injury that might have caused it. Certainly, doctors take a different approach with chronic pain. Short-term pain is usually addressed with pain killers. But over prescription of these has led to the ‘opioid crisis’ gripping the USA and spilling to other countries.

Stemming from the belief that chronic pain is caused by a constantly shifting combination of biological, psychological and social factors, doctors treat pain management as a multifaceted challenge. And while biology and psychology are — relatively — straightforward to tackle, adjusting social factors is far more difficult.

One of the more pernicious social factors are myths. The myth that newborns don’t feel pain led to infants having open heart surgery without anaesthetic. As recently as 2015, the myth that babies don’t feel pain was still being dispelled.

Myths perpetuate people feeling pain, when their pain could have been relieved, or at least managed, if they had more critically weighed up different approaches.

Even the multifaceted approach to pain is itself subject to the myth that all pain is physical. As Professor Michael Nicholas, as pain expert at the University of Sydney wrote in the Pain journal last month, “across a range of current treatments for different chronic pain conditions, many treatments remain essentially unimodal with relatively little acknowledgement of other factors that might need to be addressed.”


Pain is officially defined by the International Association for the Study of Pain as “An unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with, or resembling that associated with, actual or potential tissue damage.”

Pain is the most common reason people seek health care and the leading cause of disability in the world.

Chronic pain affects more than 30 percent of people worldwide.


Quote attributable to Professor Michael Nicholas, University of Sydney:

“We now know that more comprehensive approaches that address biological, psychological and social contributors to persisting pain are more effective than treatments that target just the painful parts of the body.”

Quote attributable to Deborah Tolulope Esan, Afe Babalola University, Ado-Ekiti:

“In many developing countries, pain relief during childbirth is underutilised due to cultural myths and taboos.”

Quote attributable to Suzanne Nielsen, Monash University:

“With so many seeking access to medical cannabinoids for pain, you’d expect strong evidence for its effectiveness as a treatment. But such evidence is hard to find.”


Treating chronic pain requires more than pain killers
Michael Nicholas, University of Sydney
With scans often showing no damage to people with bad backs, doctors were forced to rethink how they approach pain.

Evidence lacking on medical cannabis for pain
Suzanne Nielsen, Monash University
Medical cannabis has been trumpeted in the media as a panacea for all manner of pain. But scientific evidence that it works is lacking.

‘Women do not have to go through hell just to birth their babies’
Deborah Tolulope Esan and Blessed Obem Oyama, Afe Babalola University, Ado-Ekiti
In much of the world, myths regarding childbirth mean women experience more pain than they could. Education is key.

Trance away the pain
Lee Ji Kwan, Monash University
While how it works is not fully understood, hypnosis shows potential for being part of a multi-pronged pain management approach.

Listening to women in labour
Rosalynn A. Vega, University of Texas Rio Grande Valley
Too often, the medical profession ignores self-reported health from women in labour. Doing so risks both mother and baby.

How your brain tricks you into pain relief
Lewis Crawford, Sydney University
Is it possible to trick the brain into thinking a placebo will help reduce pain? The signs are good.

How acupuncture works
Tao Yin, Chengdu University of Traditional Chinese Medicine
Acupuncture is becoming more widely accepted as a pain treatment but what is the science behind it?

Originally published under Creative Commons by 360info™.

Editors Note: In the story “Pain treatment myths” sent at: 12/12/2022 10:06.

This is a corrected repeat.

Sara Phillips
Senior Commissioning Editor, 360info Asia-Pacific

Monash University has established and is proud to host the global headquarters for 360info. Monash University is also the host of the Asia-Pacific Hub.
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