We think of pain as a symptom of a disease -- and usually it is, often stemming from something like a tumor, an infection or an operation. But, about 10 percent of the time, the pain itself is the problem.
“Pain is a disease,” said pediatric anesthesiologist Elliot Krane, chief of the Pediatric Pain Management Service at the Lucille Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford. During a talk titled “The Mystery of Chronic Pain” for TED, a “nonprofit devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading,” Krane described how sometimes the nervous system can morph to create a “positive feedback loop” that sends pain signals to an area of your body.
“It’s almost as if somebody came into your home and rewired your walls so that the next time you turned on the light switch, the toilet flushed three doors down, or your dishwasher went on or your computer monitor turned off.” Krane said. “That’s crazy, but that’s in fact, what happens with chronic pain.”
To explain how it feels, Krane picked up a feather on stage and brushed it against his arm -- he then picked up a torch and quickly brushed the flame up to his arm. “Now what does it have to do with chronic pain?” he asked. “Imagine if you will these two ideas together. Imagine what your life would be like if I were to stroke it with this feather but your brain would tell you that this (the flame of the torch) is what you were feeling. And that is the experience of my patients with chronic pain.
Check out Dr. Krane’s talk below, where he tells the story of a 16-year-old patient whose seemingly innocuous wrist sprain developed into a severe case of chronic pain and discusses possible treatment options, as well.