What is Your Pain IQ?

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Take our Pain Quiz. The more you know, the better you’ll feel.

Pain is a regular part of the lives of a staggering 75 million Americans. Some 32 million of those say they’ve been living with it for over a year. That’s a long time to be hurting – long enough to begin to feel like an expert on the topic. But as medical conditions go, pain is a particularly tough nut to crack. Even bona fide experts don’t know a lot about why we ache. When you realize how complex pain is and how relatively little we understand about it, it’s easier to see why there are so many myths and misconceptions out there.

But like any other aspect of your life, the more you know the better you fare, says Sean Mackey, M.D., Ph.D., chief of the division of pain management at Stanford University, in Palo Alto, California. The more educated you are about your pain, the more empowered you are. As such, you’ll have a greater ability to take a role in your pain management and ultimately impact the course of your pain. So take our quiz to find out your pain IQ, and maybe pick up a fact or two that’ll help you feel better faster.

1) The brain itself can’t feel pain because:

  1. Serotonin, a feel-good neurotransmitter, suppresses pain signals.
  2. Our grey matter has no pain sensors or nerve endings.
  3. Myelin, the brain’s protective sheath, shields brain tissue from experiencing pain sensations.

Answer: 2. Brain tissue has no pain sensors or nerve endings. If you take away the skull, the skin and bone, and the tissues surrounding the brain, the brain itself doesn’t feel anything, explains Jon-Kar Zubieta, M.D., Ph.D., a neuroscientist at the University of Michigan, in Ann Arbor. You can literally go through the brain with a needle and not feel a thing. What about the pain caused by a headache, stroke, or seizure? These are felt by pain receptors in the blood vessels and tissues surrounding the brain.

2) Which of the following side effects are linked to long-term use of opioid drugs like morphine, codeine, and oxycodone?

  1. Lower sex drive
  2. Lower immunity
  3. More sensitivity to pain
  4. All of the above

Answer: 4. Long-term use of opioids generally four months or longer has been linked to serious side effects. However, these drugs are still the best tool a physician has for combating chronic pain. Despite a tremendous amount of research into what causes pain and the development of alternative treatments, opioids still remain the gold standard. And a lot of patients do very well on them, Mackey says. Opioids help relieve pain and suffering, help improve function and help some people get back to work. But there are side effects and potential downsides to these medications. We’re beginning to appreciate that the use of these drugs comes with a cost.

It’s worth noting that not everyone experiences side effects when taking opioids. But if you’re one of those who do, Mackey says, it’s time to have a conversation with your doctor to determine which medications are right for you.

3) What may be the most popular alternative treatment for those with chronic pain?

  1. Herbs
  2. Massage
  3. Dietary supplements
  4. Prayer

Answer: 4. Prayer. According to a 2005 study, 58 percent of Americans had used prayer to ease their pain, more than any other non-drug approach. And for good reason, it seems to work. Religious practices, such as prayer, appear to increase the pain threshold, says Harold G. Koenig, M.D., co-director of Duke University’s Center for Spirituality, Theology and Health, in Durham, North Carolina.


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