True or False: Pain = Damage?

True or False: Pain = Damage?

If you’re here for the short answer: Pain does not equal damage. And injury does not always equal pain either. Pain, damage and injury are wholly different definitions.

At Infinity Health and Osteo, we often find our clients don’t properly understand what their scan results mean. It can be even more concerning when unfamilar words are throughout the report. We made a Facebook post recently explaining that MRI/CT results showing certain conditions are common amongst certain age groups and shouldn’t always be mistaken for the cause of your discomfort.

More importantly though, how do you determine what is actually causing pain or disruption to the normal function of the joint or area? Here’s one for you. You should have left the house 6 minutes ago, you have to remember your lunch, laptop, and that file you were reading last night. Check. Got them all. You’re off to the front door to put your shoes on, when BAM. LEGO. The sharpness travels faster up your leg and into your back faster than you even realise what you’ve done. For a moment you consider revenge by launching it as far as you can possibly throw before you realise, the pain is settling a little. You rub it on your other foot and it has settled. Ahh, that wasn’t so bad. Here’s another scenario. Same situation, but BAM, you rolled your ankle as you stumbled down the stairs. It’s just as sore, but you can feel the pulsating pressure of swelling being drawn to the area. There’s actual damage now, but both felt like you’d been caught in a bear trap.

Clients come in feeling scared, helpless and limited in their activities, and it’s our job to translate their body, and guide them through the process of understanding and proper functioning. Luckily, we haven’t had any Lego injuries for 2 years! It raises an important question though, what is the make up of pain in our brain?

Joletta from “My Cuppa Jo” covered Chronic pain and injury in a recent post linked below. She explored a few factors involved in pain and we took particular interest in the psychological and social factors.

Psychological factors

Our thoughts, memories and beliefs can all influence our physiology. Sweaty palms and pits, racing heart and a dry mouth are all normal before a speech and prove the link to our thoughts affecting our physiology. The same can go for pain, the mind and body are intricately linked and what one does will always affect the other. This does not mean that pain is “all in our head” it’s not imagined or brought on by ourselves.

All pain is very real.

One thing we need to get away from is the belief that anything ‘psychological’ means crazy or imagined. It doesn’t. Hearing “it’s all in your head” can be very damaging, and it’s important you don’t whip it out for that serial complainer.

What this does mean, is that sleep deprivation, stress, depression, anxiety, catastrophising (believing the worst is going to happen), fear of movement (a lot of pain patients are afraid to move for fear of doing damage or worsening their pain), negative thoughts, and a whole host of other things can make pain feel worse or flare-up. Read that again, it’s something that’s far more common than you think.

What’s even better than that, is that we can change those. You now focus on those things – prioritise sleep, manage stress or anxiety with breathing exercises or relaxation methods, if we can manage our depression with physical activity and social interaction – we can make our pain better, too.

Social factors

The social factors involve everything from our cultural conditioning (think of how parents react to skinned knees, the look on the doctor’s face as he looks at our MRI, or of seeing enduring pain as a sign of strength and honour, among a gazillion other things) to our relationships.

Pain can often make people withdraw, which can lead to depression (which can lead to a vicious cycle of worsening pain and worsening depression), or fail to engage in life in ways they want to. This can be quite significant if it leads to them being unable to communicate their pain, or not understanding what is (or isn’t) happening to their body. Sometimes they feel like they are burdening those close to them, or fear worse, that they are complaining about nothing

But again, the good thing is that pain can lessen when we reengage with life, when we foster relationships with loved ones and friends, when we socialise again (pain groups can be great for this!). When we love and are loved.

Pain does not equal injury. And injury does not always equal pain. Pain and injury are two wholly different definitions.

Chronic and persistent pain do not always mean injury. Chronic pain can be a diagnosis in and of itself. There does not have to be an underlying injury or structural damage that is causing the pain. There is no definitive scan or x-ray or test that can identify the cause of most chronic pain, so pain patients are often made to feel that “since there is no injury, there should be no pain”.

That’s rubbish. Pain equals pain.

Though it may seem that because pain is so complex it’s helpless, that’s far from the case! It’s a good thing that we now understand that there doesn’t have to be damage or injury for there to be pain, because that means we can stop freaking looking for it! Instead, we can focus our energies and attentions on all the actions we can take to manage and even overcome our pain.

We can work to figure out which factors are contributing to our pain (are we not moving enough because we’re fearful? not sleeping enough? catastrophising too much? worrying and anxious about the pain? confused about what the pain means? withdrawing from loved ones? is our nervous system on overdrive? is our immune system down?).

We can retrain our brains to understand that movement is safe. That it is not only ok, but downright beneficial and will help us to manage our pain so we can live a full, happy, and active life. We are deserving of it. Our pain does not make us less. It does not make us unworthy. It does not make us a burden. It is just a part of us at this moment, and that is ok.

Look after yourselves,


Functional Movement Group (link recently removed), Chronic Pain doesn’t equal injury – My Cuppa Jo, Damage does not cause pain – BBoy Science