On the Facebook group, Exploring Pain: Research and Meaning, Phil Greenfield writes: “Pain is a subjective experience, with (in the absence of actual tissue damage) pretty much zero in the way of objectively measurable correlative features, so if we’re aiming to help someone who’s in pain, our focus should rest entirely on helping them with regard to their experience, not with regard to pain.
Am I missing something?”
My response was: The experience of pain is important for the person with pain, but meaningless to other people unless there are observable behaviours. The experience of pain is neither reducible to, nor totally separable from, its associated behaviours.
Suppose we encountered a society of people who used a word that lacked any connection with pain-related behaviour, and the complex situations in which we show it. Would we translate this word as “pain”? It is the meaning assigned to the complex pattern of behavioural responses, nonverbal and verbal, and its circumstances, that motivates attempts to help the person with pain.
Abstract Contemporary pain medicine is necessary to explain pain and to help in its treatment; yet, preference for biomedical explanation of pain in the field has meant that attention to the personal experience of pain and to the meanings of pain experience remain a blind spot in knowledge. Thus, the pain literature includes limited information about the common meanings of living with diabetic peripheral neuropathic pain (DPNP) from the perspective of patients.
The purpose of this chapter is to describe some of the common meanings of pain in patients with DPNP, as currently reported in the literature, how these meanings interact with other common factors in pain experience, including specific negative emotions or moods (depression, anxiety, anger), or the psychosocial context surrounding pain, and to describe available evidence on the effectiveness of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for patients with DPNP. Further quantitative, qualitative or mixed methods research is needed to more fully understand common experiences of pain in patients with DPNP, and the common meanings ascribed to these experiences.
Clinical Implications Pain in patients with DPNP involves a range of threatening pain sensations, including sensations with burning, shooting, tingling, or cramping qualities, and additional more cognitive meanings linked to persistent pain, including a sense that pain disrupts daily life in an intrusive way. Pain affects many aspects of daily experience that are meaningful to patients with DPNP; some describe ongoing physical difficulties, others describe work-related problems or challenges in sexual intimacy. Given the heavy personal burden that DPNP imposes on patients and the considerable challenge of managing the condition pharmacologically, clinical use of non-pharmacological therapies such as CBT for painful diabetic neuropathy might be warranted in individual patients.
Keywords Diabetic peripheral neuropathic pain · Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) · Lived experiences · Meaning of pain · Pain experience