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Does pain cause … pain?

I have posted here before but I’ll start at the beginning for some context. I was always a kid with headaches. Sure when I was young they weren’t that bad or that frequent but I certainly have memories of having headaches and not even really understanding what was happening. In my early teens they got worse, much more painful but still intermittent. Then as time went on they became chronic. Every day for 15 years I had a migraine without proper medical assistance, diagnosis or any attempt at treatment from a medical professional despite my begging and persistence.

A couple of years ago I found a neurologist who turned my life around. After persistent care and trailing 14 medications I was started on Periactin for prevention and an ergot and before I even went back to the Dr to tell him of the success, I had tapered off my pain medications. I used pain medications and the ergot maybe 3 times a week and went from feeling like a sick person to a person that had manageable intermittent migraines. It was a real life changing experience for me.

Then after about 6 months something started to change. I started getting severe nerve pain in my arms and my left leg. It became more and more painful and more and more frequent. I started to use my pain meds more often and I started to get rebound again (I can so tell the difference between rebound and migraine). Again my head hurt every day. Maybe not a migraine every day but head pain every day of which about half were migraines.

This year I have spent close to $10k on Drs and tests to work out what was wrong (I’m in Australia with a public health care system so that’s a lot of appointments and tests). Nothing, complete dismissal of my experience and my symptoms.

Then I finally found a pain specialist that was able to diagnose me. I have two significant nerve entrapments which we can work on. Another which isn’t quite bad enough.

So I asked him, how can I have two or three of these? Sounds a bit stupid or like I’m making it up. And his answer was, you’ve had a migraine for 20 years. You’re body has learnt to be in pain.

So I did a bit of reading. Turns out there is a whole bunch of research going on in this area. Whether is central sensitisation, or some other weird nerve thing they don’t fully understand yet … my nervous system has taken a hike from reality.

So my message is … get proper treatment. Don’t live every day in pain. We all know that migraine increases your risk of some end of life illnesses but it’s looking like pain can increase your risk of … pain.

I always wonder, if I had had proper treatment when I was a kid would my head, both arms and leg hurt every day? This ain’t small change either. I’m loosing sensation in my fingers, I can’t get to sleep, my body literally shakes from the severity of the nerve pain and my strength is diminishing in my right hand.

Remember to give yourself what you know you need and that includes the courage of your own convictions. Don’t let a Dr dismiss you, chuck you a script without investigation and diagnosis. Trust in your experience of your own body and act from a place of knowing what is and isn’t ok for you. Maybe no one else believes you but you have to believe yourself (sorry for the aspirational undertones).

Take care, be safe (but have lots and lots of fun too) and know that what you live with and what you experience matters. xo

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • RachelM author
    3 years ago

    I’ve done a bunch of reading into chronic pain, central sensitisation, glial cells, the whole pain is experienced in the brain literature.

    I have a theory as to what is happening but I’m apprehensive to disclose as I’m by no means a medical professional.

    But I’m interested to know (if absolutely nothing else) how many people in the community have more than one pain problem?

    Would this site administrators be prepared to run a quiz? I would be happy to give any time and effort.

  • Jojiieme
    3 years ago

    Whereabouts are you? I’m on the Gold Coast, and have been helped enormously this year by learning my pain cells were ganging up on me, and what to do about it.
    I still get daily migraines in summer (gd I was a mess yesterday and Wednesday!) but mostly I can manage to work through most of my 16-hr work week; my medication has been halved this year; and I now have an aquatherapy and physio program I can self-manage to reduce the physical discomfort between episodes.
    We’re in for real treat of summer (not), so my heart goes out to you!!!

  • DonnaFA moderator
    3 years ago

    Hi RachelM, I’m so sorry you’ve struggled so long with pain and misdiagnosis. Now that you’ve found a doctor that hears you and has offered you a diagnosis that feels correct, has he offered you any possible solutions?

    We’re sending all good wishes. Thanks for being part of the community. -All Best, Donna

  • Luna
    3 years ago

    I must be missing something in your story because pain from a nerve entrapment is not the body being used to being in pain. Even when the nerve is no longer entrapped it can still be painful and cause numbness/tingling because the nerve can be damaged.
    I had a serious lower back injury in 1971 (direct blow). The neurologist who first saw me and gave treatment soon retired and the one who took over soon decided to do a myelogram, found nothing pressing on the nerve and refused me further treatment. My family MD told me it was a damaged nerves. Did get better but certain positions or tight clothes or weight on certain areas set it off. Now that time has passed arthritis has set in and is causing more nerve problems. In my opinion it is not your fault or a lack of “proper” migraine treatment. But you do have to learn the best way to live with this. Are there certain movements that set it off or relieve it, etc.

  • Luna
    3 years ago

    JOJ, How interesting. Thanks. Something more to research.

  • Jojiieme
    3 years ago

    Hi Luna!
    ‘Pain’ isn’t simply pain: there are three kinds – neuropathic, nociceptive and a mix of the other two. Neuropathic travels along the nerves, from up in the brain’s ‘pain centre’/sense of your body, and sends extra support to combat the affected bits of your injured self. Nociceptive pain cells (G cells) are generated along your spinal cord, rushing quickly to where they’re needed along with antibodies to stop inflammation, etc.
    And the mixed kind is self-explanatory.
    When you suffer chronic pain, you need to know which kind you have so you know which meds will work best and also how to avoid relapses.
    Recent research (over the past 5 years or so) has shown that nociceptor cells generate more of their own kind, thereby generating more experienced pain. There’s little one can do for this apart from reducing inflammatory agents and situations (e.g. Physio so you don’t move in ways that aggravate an injury, etc). It’s truly fascinating research and quite revolutionary!
    There’s some resources on this site which explain it better than I do.
    My own neurologist is helpful, my immunologist is more knowledgable since this part of the pain management is also tied in with her work in food chemical allergies.

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