You are more than your imaging

If you are like most people, you’ve likely experienced pain at some point in your life. Maybe that pain lasted only for a day or two, or perhaps you have pain now and it has been lasting for a while.

The International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP) recently revised their definition of pain by adding new elements that are important for understanding why we hurt. Two of the key elements described are:

How do our bodies understand pain?

As a physical therapist who works with individuals challenged by pain, these key points really resonate and reflect what I have come to learn about pain from the thousands of patients I have been privileged to work with.

Both points reflect a shift in our understanding of pain: a shift away from a strictly tissue injury-based understanding of pain to a more complete understanding including the tissues as well as the unique person living with those tissues.  

If pain was completely and accurately explained solely by issues in the tissues—like arthritis, tears, degeneration, and disc herniation—then everyone with those issues would have pain. Interestingly, that is not the case at all. Over the past 20 years, multiple studies have resulted in a significant shift in our understanding of pain. Here are some highlights:

I first realized the inconsistencies in pain and imaging findings early in my professional career. I would often have patients tell me that they had an x-ray of their knee or shoulder and the doctor told them the other side looked worse than the side they were having the pain! I wasn’t sure how to make sense of this until I began learning more and more about pain.

Misconceptions around pain

Pain–whether it’s chronic or acute–is always a personal experience and reflects an individual’s perception of threat. Words like rip, torn, ruptured, misaligned, degenerated, and arthritic are provocative and contribute to uncertainty regarding our health and wellbeing. When uncertainty exists, pain often follows.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating that we disregard x-ray and MRI findings; I am advocating, however, that we consider them as a single piece of the whole person challenged by pain. Pain can have a significant influence on our lives, and it is important to have an accurate and complete understanding of why you hurt so you can make the most informed decisions on how you treat and resolve your pain.

The physical therapists at Des Moines University Physical Therapy Clinic have extensive training in understanding pain and can help you discover how you are more than just your imaging. Visit the DMU Clinic website or call 515-271-1717 to schedule an appointment.


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Disclaimer: This content is created for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of a qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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