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Strange but true: the meaning of “pain science” is controversial

 •  • by Paul Ingraham
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Weekly nuggets of pain science news and insight, usually 100-300 words, with the occasional longer post. The blog is the “director’s commentary” on the core content of a library of major articles and books about common painful problems and popular treatments. See the blog archives or updates for the whole site.

It’s weird for me to see the title “pain science is not a thing.” O rly?! Well, it is my website!

But Dr. Thompson is aware of that. What she’s writing about is the strange fact that “pain science” is controversial — the words themselves, that is. The meaning of that specific pairing of words has somehow become a subject of debate and concern, mainly because a certain type of healthcare professional insists on perceiving it as a method of treating people and/or a clique of believers in a particular way of doing this.

It’s really not. But some people have a hard time imagining healthcare without gurus and workshops, and they see everything through that lens. It must be PainScience™! When all you have is a hammer

It’s much ado about nothing and doesn’t concern me much. But, as the owner of the “” domain, it’s noteworthy and rather surreal. It amazes me that it’s enough of an issue to inspire posts like the one I’m sharing today. And it’s not even the first! This has come up before (see also, “Pain science is not a modality!” by Lars Avemarie). ……I agree with Bronnie and Lars wholeheartedly… but, wow, it’s just so bizarre that there’s any kind of need for it.

For whatever it’s worth, when I chose the domain name (circa 2014), I was thinking exclusively of “pain science” as meaning “pain being examined through multiple scientific lenses.” No other interpretation was even on my radar, and I am rather horrified and baffled by other interpretations that have emerged since then!

What interests me about this is mostly that it’s so painfully obvious that the people systematically abusing the idea of “pain science” see their jobs through a thick lens of methods and techniques, of skills learned from gurus at weekend workshops, ways of “fixing” patients. They have a hard time wrapping their heads around the idea of an abstract perspective/process (AKA “science”) that informs clinical reasoning in a complex, unpredictable way, which can’t be packaged. It is really only the people most blinkered in this way that are systematically oversimplifying and misrepresenting what “pain science” refers to, like thinking astrology is the same as astronomy.