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Pain is in the brain. The sensation creating the feeling of pain may be a burning in the arm, or it may be from some emotional trauma. The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (WebMD) published some brain scan findings by Ethan Kross and Edward Smith showing brain activity in the same location for both of these seemingly different phenomena. Their experimentally induced burning pain intensity was about a PAINS~5 as judged from the published description. That level of pain appeared to be approximately the same as that induced by viewing a photograph of a past lover who rejected the subject being brain scanned.

It would be interesting to see if emotional pain faded with time as does physical pain. That could be measured using Probaway – Pain Scale. Pain hasn’t been measured, scaled or indexed very well before this scale was published. With this scale available it becomes possible to identify and discuss the pain associated with different organs of the body. Clearly the source of muscle pain is different from skin pain, and emotional pain, but they might fade with time in a similar way, or perhaps not. A physical pain might fade away as the injury heals, but an emotional pain might reside as a compact unit, and revive in totality of intensity after many years. The only way to know these things is to track them over an extended period, but a good estimate can be made by placing a particular painful event on the scale from memory of the intensity and then remembering the intensity as felt at different times afterwards.

Pain Injury severity measured through time

Injury and pain severity measured and plotted through time

Click on the chart below to enlarge to readability.

Pain Scale Intensity Measurement – click for a larger .GIF chart.

Probaway Pain Scale - PAINSPain Scale – For measuring the intensity of human pain and suffering

Pain Scale Intensity Measurement Chart – click here for a printable .PDF.

Pain is a report by the body to the mind that something isn’t ideal and the pain receptor’s environment should be modified to eliminate and prevent the undesirable condition.

In the case of emotional pain, it seems reasonable that the pain would decrease with time. The worst emotional pain I ever witnessed was about ten years ago, when I came upon an accident where a city bus had run over and squished a small boy. I neither saw the accident nor looked at the boy, whom someone had covered, but there was a woman there who had witnessed the whole event, a few minutes before, and was in such emotional pain that she literally couldn’t walk she was trembling so badly. That was a PAINS~11 event for her even though she suffered no physical injury. Right now, while writing this, I feel a strong empathy for that woman which seems to manifest mostly in my face, tightening of my stomach muscles and a hot twinge in my heart.

Following the experiment, it would make sense to do brain scans associated with physical and emotional pain events. Instead of a mild heat pain on the arm as in the study, doing brain scans on the people while they were actually suffering would give much better results. Also, it would set a base line for testing these same people, an hour, day, week, month, year, decade later to discover the rate of recovery from these different types of injuries.

50 billion people have lived and suffered and still we don’t understand pain.