man in leather jacket with back pain

“. . . all pain feels like it’s coming from the body . . .”

In their short and fascinating and incredibly well-written book The Way Out, Alan Gordon with Alon Ziv emphasize that, as far as how it is perceived, pain is pain is pain. It feels exactly the same, whether it has a physical cause or whether the brain is reacting to fear and going off-script. It’s easy to assume that your pain is due to an ongoing injury or physical health condition, because that’s how it feels.

I know I made that assumption. When doctors told me that I was healed from my concussion, I did not believe them. If I was healed, then why was I still having headaches and dizziness? It made no sense to me. My doctors were stumped, and so was I.

My concussion specialist doctors sent me to psychiatrists and psychotherapists, but they, like me, assumed that my pain my physical, and told me to consult a concussion specialist doctor—things were going in a circle. I tried alternative medicine, but nothing worked: not acupuncture, or cranial sacral therapy, or hyperbaric oxygen therapy, or lymph node drainage, or vitamins and supplements. I tried going gluten free, grain free, alcohol free, dairy free, nightshade free, and sugar free. My dietary changes helped for a while, until my symptoms came roaring back. I have since realized that this was the placebo effect.

Most modern healthcare providers are not equipped to identify or help patients with chronic pain. I hope this will someday change. But for now, there are ways that you can determine whether you have physical pain or chronic pain. Here is a list, garnered from The Way Out, of indicators that you may have chronic pain.

Note that not all long-lasting pain is chronic pain. Also note that the following items are not hard-and-fast rules. View them more as clues along your path to discovery and healing. Finally, note that even if you don’t identify with anything in this list, you could still have chronic pain.

You may have chronic pain if . . .
  • You identify with one or more of the three types of fear described in my last blog post, What Types of Fear Cause Chronic Pain?—current stress, past stress, or certain habits of mind.
  • Your pain arose during a time of great stress.
  • Your pain arose seemingly randomly; there was no obvious injury or reason why it arose.
  • You had an injury, but your pain lasted much longer than expected.
  • Doctors tell you there’s nothing wrong with your body. (But note that doctors are sometimes wrong, so if a doctor says there is a problem with your body, that’s not a guarantee that it’s not actually chronic pain.)
  • Your pain changes places in your body.
  • Your pain gets worse and better and worse and better, either randomly or for reasons that have nothing to do with your body.
  • Your pain is triggered by things that have nothing to do with your body.
  • Your pain is triggered by stress.
  • You don’t have pain while doing an activity, but only after you stop doing it.

Do you identify with anything in this list?