One may well imagine that pain works a bit like a high-tech house alarm system.
A good security system has sensors on all the doors and windows, plus infra-red sensors covering all the rooms. When one of these sensors is tripped by an intruder, the alarm is activated and a siren goes off.
It is true that, in much the same way, the body is equipped with pain sensors – called mechanoreceptors. These sensors are indeed tripped when there is extreme physical force applied to them, or damage inflicted to the area.
One would think that when these sensors are tripped, the pain alarm will go off.
But it’s not quite that simple.
The Guard Dog Analogy
The pain system is more like a guard dog than an alarm system.
Like an alarm system, a guard dog can sense intrusions into the home – it has acute hearing, an amazing sense of smell, and great vision.
A dog’s sensors are actually much more effective than any alarm system. It can detect potential intruders before they get anywhere near the house, and can differentiate between its owners and strangers, between a burglar or the pet cat.
Chronic Pain is Like and Unruly Guard Dog
In an ideal world, the guard dog would only bark and wake up its master when there was an actual intruder trying to break into the house.
Unfortunately, such good guard dogs are hard to find.
Your more typical guard dog is going to bark every time a stranger walks up the drive. That’s not usually a problem, however, providing he’s well-trained and will stop barking when commanded.
Sometimes, however, guard dogs can become problematic.
- The Excitable Pup
Barks at the slightest noise – A blue tit lands on the fence and she’s at the window yelping and jumping up and down
- The Persistent Yapper
Only barks when someone comes down the drive, but then won’t stop barking for the rest of the day, even when it turns out just to be Auntie Dorris.
- The Constant Barker
Everyone’s worst nightmare – just barks all day everyday, irrespective of what’s going on. Will only shut up after some elaborate ritual of tricks and treats.
- The Slumbering Hound
On the opposite end of the spectrum, this one never makes a peep. Great that you always get a good night’s sleep, not so great when he sits quietly wagging his little tail while some scoundrel loads your plasma TV in the back of his wagon.
- The Worst Dog in the World
Completely erratic. Barks insanely at the Blue Tit and Auntie Dorris, and won’t shut up when told to be quiet. Wags his tail at the burglar and sleeps through a house fire!
Woof = Can I Have Your Attention Please?
Just as there is large variability between guard dogs, there’s also large variability between the sensitivity and accuracy of our internal pain systems.
The question is, is there anything that can be done about it?
The first thing to realise, is that:
Pain is not a damage meter, it’s an action signal
(I think that quote is from Paul Ingram of PainScience.com)
In much the same way that a dog’s bark is not necessarily exactly correlated with an intruder, the sensation of pain is not necessarily exactly correlated with tissue damage.
The dog barks to get your attention.
Pain is generated in the brain, to get your attention.
The purpose of pain is to make you change your behaviour – move away from the source of danger, stop performing a certain movement, stop trying to eat the delicious slice of pizza before it’s cooled down…
The Pain Whisperer
A guard dog is superior to even the best alarm system, as it is trainable.
This is also the advantage of the human pain system. It has the capacity to learn and adapt.
Unfortunately, just as with dogs, it can learn bad habits.
If this is the case, you need to retrain it.
I dont’ know much about dog training, but I do have an article on some potential tactics to deal with Chronic Pain you can read here.
Perhaps, depending on its nature, you might not be able to fully discipline the dog, but there are still things you can do to improve your relationship.
- Listen Carefully
Perhaps if you pay close attention to the dog you can learn to differentiate between the barks for Auntie Dorris, the neighbours cat, and someone trying to jack your car from the driveway.
- Meet All The Dog’s Needs
Perhaps there’s a reason that the dog is barking all the time, even though there’s no intruder? Is it stressed, sick, malnourished. Ensure that all its basic needs are met.
- Accept the Barking, Don’t Go Barking Mad
If nothing seems to work, you’re going to have to get stoical about matters, and learn to accept the constant barking. This at the very least will let you get a good night’s sleep, and you never know, perhaps the dog will eventually give up crying wolf when you stop paying it so much attention.
Obviously, this isn’t a perfect analogy, but hopefully it provides some food for thought – or at least some tasty dog biscuits!