How to Prevent Pain EpisodesAn Expert on Pain

Today’s guest host Dr. Kevin Cuccaro is an expert on pain and will help us how we can prevent pain episodes. We had so many e-mail responses to our 4-part series on pain that I thought it would be great to bring on an actual expert. My husband, Les, and I discussed pain in episodes 180 through 183 but as you know we’re not experts. We discussed the June 2019 article on pain. Since our discussion, I had something that happened to me you probably aren’t aware of unless you’re a member of the Facebook group.

During this 4-part series, we’ll be discussing the podcast episodes that Les and I created and what we left out. In this episode, we’ll discuss what happened to me and how I might be able to prevent pain episodes.

I'm Having Pain Episodes

I had a pain on my neck that has gone on for a couple of days and I’m no stranger of having a pain in my neck. So, I thought I would do some traction and traction is something I have done in the past. Instead of doing it for 2 minutes, I did it for 3 minutes and then when I was finished. I could not get out of bed. Although the normal time is 3 minutes, you usually work your way up to it and it may have been 8 years since I’ve used it. Instead of doing it for 2 or 1 minute, I thought that I had done this a million times so let me do this for 3 minutes.

Dr. Cuccaro said the key thing here for him is the fact that there is something inside of me that my brain is saying that I should not be doing this, calling it a threat. The second part is what I mentioned that generally, I would build-up to traction. That’s another part in my brain saying that we should build-up to this.

What Kind of Pain This?

People assume that there are these different types of pain, physical, emotional, or psychosomatic. What Dr. Cuccaro wants to get across to people is that there is just pain. All pain is pain. But all pain has multiple different inputs that go into constructing it. All of these are nerve information that’s going up into the brain. That nerve information then takes 2 other components in order for us to construct this experience of pain. We had to have attention; you have to notice and direct your attention to it and the second part is the affective dimension which is the emotional component, the meaning that we give to it.

We tend to view pain as a punisher, but pain actually does is it try to protect you from body damage. It’s an alarm system. This is the reason where if you have a new episode of pain, sometimes those will hurt much worse than if you have a similar pain in the future. But if we are fearful that every time we experience pain episodes, that there is body damage. We tend to experience more severe pain when a pain reoccurs.

What to Do with those Pain Episodes?

None of us wants to experience pain, but it serves a vital role to us. The more that we understand some basics of pain and the science of pain, the more we appreciate what pain is trying to do. It is never about the complete elimination of pain. Pain is associated with leaning; If we understand that pain is a protector, it will protect us. For example, we touched a hot stove; We had a sharp sensation going up to our brain, withdraw, and then we say, I must have burned my finger and there’s a pain at that moment. Pain is protecting us because it’s withdrawing and protecting us from that finger we’ve burned.

The other way that pain protects us is for the future. Because if you ever saw a hot burning stove in the future, how likely are you to touch it again? The answer is, not very likely because the first time you did it, you experienced a lot of pain.

Emotional Part of Pain

The more that you have a high threat in your environment, that synthesizes your brain to see more threat towards you, that is why you are more likely to experience pain. Pain EpisodesPeople who experienced trauma, particularly early life trauma (abuse or neglect), tend to have more pain than people who are coming from different environments. It is not because these people are crazy, fundamentally damaged, or have disruptive brains. If you come from a background of trauma and abuse, it makes more sense for your brain to start seeing and perceiving threats early and reacts more vigorously than not because it’s trying to protect you from bad things that are happening.


There are two major divisions of treatments in pain, passive-based therapies and active-based therapies. Passive-based therapies are things like surgeries, injections, and drugs. You don’t really have control over this technique; You have to rely on somebody else to do something to or for you. While active-based are things that you do for yourself or things that you have learned and worked with somebody else to gain a skill set.

Biofeedback is one of those active-based therapies. What you’re doing with biofeedback is that you have to participate, you have to be engaged, and you’re actually training your brain to be able to relax in certain scenarios.

Every pain is unique, every person is unique, every therapeutic path of every individual is unique as well.

About Our Co-Host

Dr. Kevin Cuccaro is a fellowship trained specialist and expert on the science of pain, trained in anesthesiology at The University of Chicago. After that, he completed his fellowship in Pain Medicine at the University of Michigan. Later road he served as associate program director of the Naval Medical Center San Diego’s Pain Medicine Fellowship program. If you’ve never been to San Diego you should go, it’s a beautiful place. He focuses on creating solutions for pain and pain-related topics important to healthcare systems, clinicians and the public.

For more information about Dr. Cuccaro, please visit KevinCuccaro.com or StraightShotHealth.com

Mentioned in This Episode:

ConsumerReports.org – Real Pain Relief, Now!

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