Part Four: The Volume Dial

Karlyn Driedger PT, BScKin, MScPT, CIDN

Clinic Director
Registered Physiotherapist
Pelvic Health Physiotherapist

Pain is complex. It is our body’s alarm system. And it is often not a reliable indicator of the level of tissue damage, injury or danger. One reason for this, is because while the brain is processing information from our bodies, other factors can affect the volume of the final output or alarm. In reality, there are a lot of things that influence whether or not we feel pain, and how much pain we feel.

Here are a few things that can cause the volume of the alarm to increase:

  • Fear – this is a powerful driver of pain. Many people become fearful of movement because they are afraid it will increase their pain. The brain processes this information and may interpret movement as “dangerous”, therefore increasing the volume of the pain that you feel.
  • Stress / Anxiety – similar to fear, stress can increase pain. We also have a physical response when we experience stress — increased muscle tension, increased heart rate, blood pressure, and increased breathing rate. This is also referred to as our “fight or flight” response, and over longer periods of time, this response can increase the sensitivity of our alarm system and the volume of pain.
  • Lack of Sleep – sleep is so important for our bodies, minds and overall health. If we are not getting enough hours of sleep or good quality of sleep, our bodies become less effective at turning down the volume dial, and our alarm system becomes more sensitive.
  • Thinking negative thoughts – negative thought patterns are another powerful driver of pain. Negative thoughts or beliefs about pain can have a profound impact on your pain and your response to pain. Assuming the worst (sometimes termed “catastrophization”) is correlated with increased sensitivity and persistent pain after injury.
  • Poor nutrition – diet can affect pain in many ways. Proper nutrition is vital when dealing with pain conditions / persistent pain. There are also foods that can increase inflammation and contribute to a more sensitive alarm system.

Have you ever noticed that your pain feels worse depending on how you feel emotionally or how much sleep you’ve been getting? You are not alone! Stay tuned for some strategies that can help turn the volume dial back down!