What is the biopsychosocial model of pain?
Pain is first and foremost a sign that damage has occurred somewhere in your body, which can lead to a response for your own protection. For example, if you burn your hand on the stove, you will feel pain in your hand and will pull it away as fast as you can in order to protect yourself.
Nevertheless, not everyone will respond to burning their hand in the same way. While one person may cry out in pain, another may not utter a word - just clench their teeth and say they are fine. However, both of them will pull their hand away to protect themselves . This example illustrates how the response to pain differs from person to person, despite the fact that the cause of the pain is the same.
Pain is therefore not only a sign of damage, but also your response to pain is determined by how you are used to dealing with pain. Other additional personal factors, such as whether, for example, you are feeling depressed or anxious, can also make your pain feel worse.
Another important aspect of pain is the effect it has on your daily life, such as your work, housework or hobbies; in other words, on your personal quality of life. The more limited you are by the pain, the worse it will feel.
In addition to physical and personal factors, the amount of pain felt can also be influenced by social factors. For example, how you deal with pain depends on your culture or on the country you live in, which in turn determines how you experience pain.
In short, pain is determined by a number of different factors and is not the same thing as fever during a bout of flu, whereby the infection is the only factor influencing the fever. Pain cannot be measured like fever. With pain, there are several factors involved that can influence the degree of pain felt, and this is also the reason why pain cannot be measured in any simple manner.
The approach to pain we have described above applies to all types of pain, whether or not there is a known cause for the pain. For example, it applies to pain following an operation, pain due to arthritis, or that due to cancer. This approach to pain, which takes into account a number of different factors, is known as the biopsychosocial model of pain. 'Model' means the viewpoint taken by those treating your pain.
Since there are many factors that can influence how much pain you feel (physical, psychological and social), we will test you for all these factors at the outpatient department. We will first look for the physical cause . This involves a general physical examination as well as neurological, orthopaedic and manual/musculoskeletal examinations, in some cases complemented by X-rays, scans and other tests.
We will also deal with any psychological or social factors that may influence your pain. This will be done by means of the pain questionnaires you will have completed before your first visit to a pain specialist at the outpatient department.
The factors that determine the degree of pain you feel come from different areas of medicine, which is why you may require treatment by various medical disciplines (neurology, orthopaedics, psychology, psychiatry and rehabilitation). This is known as the multidisciplinary treatment of pain, and is one of the most important working methods at the outpatient department of the University Pain Centre Maastricht.