Pain is an unavoidable sensation that signals when we have an injury or illness. However, what makes pain unusual is that no two experiences are the same—everyone's tolerance differs. To find out about the different types of pain, potential triggers, and what you can do to alleviate painful conditions, keep reading.
Pain is a reaction to harmful or dangerous stimuli. It reminds us to withdraw from threatening situations and has helped the human race survive for millions of years. As upsetting as being in pain is, without it our body wouldn't be able to heal and repair.
Painful sensations do not have a direct link to our brain, despite how instantaneous they feel! Instead, pain relies on several different neurons and nerve pathways to get from the source of the pain to our brain and back again. A neuron is a nerve cell that is responsible for transmitting a signal.
If you imagine stepping on a sharp object, nerve endings (nociceptors) in the bottom of your foot sense the injury, before sending the signal along nerve fibres to the dorsal horn at the base of the spine. The original message is then transferred to another set of neurons, travelling up the spinal cord to the thalamus. The thalamus is part of the midbrain, and is responsible for organising those signals into a logical order.
Once organised, the signal arrives at the sensory cortex (our emotional response to pain), where it is deciphered and interpreted by the motor cortex (our physical reaction to pain).
The signal then travels back along the same pathways to motor neurons in your foot. You proceed to jump around, clutching your foot and cursing. Although there are dozens of stages to "feeling pain", it all happens in less than a second.
Pain remains a challenging sensation to treat because there are multiple types to consider, and, as mentioned, no two experiences are the same. If you disrupt just one of the pathways in the pain process, it can drastically alter our pain response.
• Nociceptive pain: Characterised as a sharp, achy, or throbbing feeling, nociceptive pain is the most common sensation. You'll experience nociceptive pain whenever you bump, scrape, or damage bodily tissue.
• Neuropathic pain: This type of pain is much harder to pinpoint because it involves the nerves themselves, and can be triggered by conventionally “non-painful” stimuli. Neuropathic pain is often described as a shooting, stabbing, or burning sensation.
• Radicular pain: Specific to the nerves in your spine, radicular pain results from compression or inflammation. Pressure on the nerves often causes numbness, tingling, and weakness in the legs and lower back.
• Visceral pain: Visceral pain, once again, covers the activation of specific pain receptors, this time in the pelvis, chest, and abdomen. This type of pain usually results from damage to tissue or internal organs, and manifests as a feeling of deep pressure or aching.
All of the types of pain listed above have something in common—they can be either acute or chronic.
Acute pain is immediate and usually in response to an aggravating activity or external stimuli. Stepping on a sharp object, hitting your elbow, or cutting the skin—all these actions trigger instances of acute pain. The sensation usually only lasts several minutes, but, in some cases, can continue for 3–6 months.
On the other hand, chronic pain is far more severe, failing to subside even after removing obvious triggers. It can result from any part of the pain pathway becoming damaged or not working correctly. Chronic pain is also a frequent by-product of health conditions such as:
Those living with chronic pain will find the sensation all too familiar. It chips away at your confidence, always lurking in the back of your mind. Picking up the grandkids, going shopping, even simple household chores become a battle between mind, body, and inner determination.
One in five adults living in Europe will suffer from either nociceptive or neuropathic pain, with a third of that population experiencing constant pain.
Self-treatment, such as mindfulness meditation and lifestyle changes, plays a significant role in chronic pain management. Treatment of pain is not a simple "one-size-fits-all" approach—the concept is far more sophisticated. It's also important to note that chronic pain can subside, coming back intermittently. These cases are still classed as chronic because the pain persists over an extended period (longer than six months).
If pain persists for several weeks, impacts your daily activities, or gets worse over time, you should consult a doctor or physician. However, getting a diagnosis for chronic pain is challenging because there are so many factors involved. Most doctors will start with simple questions such as:
• When does the pain start or stop?
• Where does it hurt?
• Rate your pain on a scale of 1 to 10
They may also arrange CT scans, MRIs, or an X-ray to pinpoint potential issues. As many cases of chronic pain are neuropathic, identifying the underlying cause is difficult because the area in which you experience the pain may not be where the real problem lies.
Dealing with chronic pain is both a physical and mental challenge, as disruptions to daily life can quickly lead to psychological side effects. Fortunately, there are several activities and actions you can take to help manage chronic pain.
Some cases of chronic pain will not subside with exercise or movement, but, in the majority of instances, staying active is the best way to keep pain under control. So, even if you can't get to the gym or your pain prevents you from doing normal hobbies, try to find safe, rehabilitative alternatives.
There are dozens of activities, supplements, and complementary treatments (acupuncture, herbal medicine, massaging) that can work alongside a traditional approach to pain management. Don't forget, every pain sensation is unique, and it's important to try different methods.
Much of how we feel pain has to do with the mind and learned responses. That doesn't mean a strong mind can overcome pain entirely, but practising good mental health goes a long way toward coping with chronic pain. If not for the physical benefits, practising mindfulness can help relieve stress when symptoms flare up.
If you're living with chronic pain, unfortunately, you may not be able to do some activities. But, that doesn't mean removing them from your life entirely. If you're passionate about garden work, for example, ask a friend to help, especially if you know the bending and lifting aggravates the pain. Chronic conditions don't have to mean giving up the things you love.
Conditions such as chronic back pain affect millions of people worldwide, so you don't need to suffer in silence—there are thousands of people and many support groups you can engage with. Not only does it help to share your frustrations with chronic pain, but you may learn of therapies that could improve daily life.
Cannabis has a deep-rooted history of use worldwide, but the presence of THC, a compound that gets you high when consumed, has made it difficult to scientifically explore the plant's full potential.
Fortunately, global attitudes are shifting, and studies focused on cannabis’ effects on pain and inflammation are becoming more prevalent. There's still a lot we don't know about specific dosages, optimal administration methods, and overcoming side effects. Still, preclinical evidence suggests cannabis and the vast collection of cannabinoids within its chemical structure could be worthy of further study for managing pain—specifically chronic pain—by influencing receptors and nerve endings.
However, the challenge remains pinpointing which cannabinoid specifically mediates which receptors and nerve endings linked to pain. Yet, scientists believe that CBD, a non-toxic cannabinoid found in cannabis and hemp, shows the most significant potential.
CBD is of great interest to researchers for several reasons. To start, the compound is all-natural and exhibits minimal side effects. Moreover, its unique influence on homeostasis, the body's ability to self-regulate, makes it a powerful tool in chronic pain management.
Before we dive into the studies surrounding CBD and pain, it helps to understand the compound's background. Derived from industrial hemp, cannabidiol (CBD) is an all-natural molecule that makes up part of the plant's chemical structure. However, what sets CBD apart from other natural supplements is its influence on the human body.
When CBD enters the bloodstream, it travels around the body, interacting with an extensive network of cannabinoid receptors. These biological gateways exist inside all of us and allow CBD to potentially influence dozens of bodily functions, including mood, digestion, sleep, and, most importantly, pain.
Treating chronic pain through natural means is hugely important because symptoms persist day after day. While we cannot doubt the efficacy of pharmaceutical pain medications, these often induce severe side effects, and prolonged use can cause their own set of health issues.
Patients need a reliable alternative that doesn't interfere with bodily functions and fits easily into varied lifestyles. Preliminary studies have sought to determine CBD’s efficacy at managing chronic pain, specifically conditions such as ulcerative colitis, rheumatoid arthritis, and migraines.
CBD works alongside the body, not against it, to exert its influence. This attribute alone makes it potentially advantageous to chronic pain sufferers, as they can focus on primary symptoms, not additional problems caused by traditional medications.
The exact cause of migraines is unknown, and this makes them incredibly challenging to treat. Combined with debilitating symptoms and a tendency for cases to become chronic, migraines remain one of the leading causes of absenteeism at work.
CBD's relationship with migraines is nearly as complicated as the condition itself. Researchers believe that the trigger for migraines may come from a chemical imbalance that disrupts nerve endings in the brain.
Specific studies into the direct effects of CBD on migraines are limited, but some research suggests a link between migraines and a lack of endocannabinoids. In that case, CBD makes an intriguing candidate for migraine treatment programmes as it has a very similar chemical structure to endocannabinoids.
Celiac disease causes an adverse reaction to gluten, the protein molecule in wheat, rye, and barley. Given the volume of foods that contain gluten, even a mild intolerance can cause significant disruptions to quality of life.
Again, the link between CBD and celiac disease remains under investigation. However, what scientists have uncovered is that sufficient endocannabinoid levels inside the body may help to reduce intestinal inflammation. Fortunately, CBD has shown the ability to inhibit certain enzymes that reduce natural levels of endocannabinoids. As such, researchers theorise the cannabinoid could support the body's natural ability to reduce inflammation.
Back pain is a widespread complaint, but, fortunately, most cases improve after a few weeks. However, with so many nerves located around the base of the spine (where most back-related issues start), it doesn't take much for complications to make the condition chronic. Regular exercise, stretching, anti-inflammatories, and compression packs can help to reduce pain, but what about CBD?
One of the key aggravators of chronic back pain is inflammation, with a common diagnosis of inflamed discs at the base of the spine. Inflammation causes compression on surrounding nerves, thus triggering instances of neuropathic pain. Obviously, in these cases, we can attempt to treat the pain with painkillers, but the root of the issue remains the inflammation.
Cannabinoids, including CBD, are thought to influence the body's inflammatory response via their interaction with cannabinoid receptors linked to the immune system. If inflammation is significantly reduced, this can, in turn, reduce back pain to the point at which it becomes much more manageable (alongside other pain-management techniques).
Most diseases that lead to chronic pain have one thing in common—inflammation. Now, it's important to point out that inflammation is a necessary bodily response. Without it, we wouldn't be able to combat infection or repair damaged tissue. However, this is where researchers begin to question the influence CBD has on inflammation.
A reduction in chronic cases of inflammation is essential, but, if your inflammatory response is working as intended, will CBD lower it to the point that crucial bodily functions suffer?
CBD, just like vitamins and minerals, supplements the body with missing elements. But, even vitamins and minerals can produce adverse effects if consumed excessively. The key to uncovering CBD's true impact on inflammation lies in taking a balanced approach to consumption, and monitoring and adjusting dosage accordingly.
With much of CBD's efficacy hinging on the correct dosage and method of consumption, it makes sense to cover some "CBD basics".
The most important part of an effective CBD routine is matching the product to your pain needs. For example, if your pain is neuropathic, a high-concentration CBD capsule or oil may prove beneficial, as it circulates the body, activating internal receptors.
Alternatively, a CBD-infused cream may be a better option for pain localised around joints or muscles. Cannabinoid receptors exist in the skin, and localised application of CBD will influence these sites almost exclusively, rather than entering the bloodstream.
Fortunately, CBD won't get you high, and is generally well-tolerated in humans according to the World Health Organisation. We recommend experimenting with different CBD products and finding not only what fits your lifestyle, but provides the most direct impact on your well-being.
While we have some understanding of CBD's potential influence on pain, dosage recommendations remain under investigation. Pain is a sensation unique to each person, and the pain you experience won't feel the same in another individual with similar circumstances.
The differences in our pain response, and a lack of focused research, make it challenging to provide an exact dosage recommendation; however, we do have some general tips to get you started:
• If you've never tried CBD before, start with a low-concentration supplement or cream. Once you're accustomed to CBD's impact on pain, gradually increase the dose and frequency until you achieve the desired result.
• Cibdol's dosage calculator provides a "starting point" for CBD based on several key factors. Whether you're entirely new to CBD or looking to fine-tune your experience, you can use our recommendation to begin your wellness journey.
• For cases of chronic pain, try consuming CBD regularly throughout the day. The compound's lack of toxicity makes it ideal for everyday use.
• If pain is more intense at specific parts of the day, mix and match your consumption methods. CBD vape liquids provide a near-instant impact, while CBD oils take up to an hour to work. It's best if you compare a product's pros and cons, matching them to your individual needs.
 World Health Organization. (2018). Cannabidiol (CBD). World Health Organization. https://www.who.int/medicines/access/controlled-substances/CannabidiolCriticalReview.pdf [Source]