Neurobiology of pain
a humanistic perspective
The most up-to-date description defines pain as an "unpleasant and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage, or described in terms of such damage" (International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP)). Two words stand out: "experience" and "emotional." In fact, the cognitive processing of painful sensations is strongly dependent on the remembrance of previous painful experiences (both own and as seen on others) and is influenced by, or can influence, emotional states. The IASP description also accounts for a massive neurobiology behind the processing of painful sensations and its impact on emotions. In fact, thousands of neurons in the peripheral and central nervous system are related to each other through very specific connections, and they participate in the conscious evoking of pain, through yet not totally understood mechanisms. Ultimately, the general role of pain is to assist us, in a sensorial fashion, in our interaction with the surrounding world and to avoid potential tissue damage. We could say that this is good pain, a pain we need. However, when pain becomes chronic, even in the absence of tissue damage, it triggers an experience that we certainly do not need, namely, suffering. Suffering involves the human person as a whole, urging us to find ways to face it appropriately, in a manner that may be accepted in terms of meaning. The present chapter aims to present pain encompassing both the neurobiological and experiential/emotional aspects that make it both a necessity and a challenge in human life.
Malet, M. (2019)., Neurobiology of pain: a humanistic perspective, in H. L. . Mesones arroyo (ed.), Psychiatry and neuroscience update, Dordrecht, Springer, pp. 23-42.
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