Why Do We Have Pain?

drinking glass and notepad

Therapist Blog by Matt Immerman (PT, DPT, OCS)

Why do we have pain? Most people think that pain is directly tied to tissue damage and wear and tear. However, while these physical factors are important, they are not always necessary nor sufficient in order for a person to experience pain.

The Cup Analogy

One helpful way to conceptualize this is to think of pain occurring when a cup is filled to the brim with water and starts over flowing. In this scenario, the cup is the body’s resilience or tolerance, and the water is the stress that the body incurs.

The “stress” consists of the obvious physical stresses that we all put ourselves through such as strenuous workouts, prolonged sitting, a sprained ankle leading to an inflammatory response etc…but there are other stresses as well that can “fill our cup.” These other stresses include poor sleep, poor diet, work and life stress and sometimes even negative beliefs such as “my body is broken” or “this pain will never go away.”

The cup, as stated earlier, is the body’s “tolerance” or “capacity ” to handle all of this stress. This capacity encompasses physical factors such as the health of the tisses, muscle strength and flexibility etc. But it also includes non physical factors as well such as social connections, engaging in enjoyable activities and positive beliefs.

Rehab, in essence, consists of two things.

  1. Taking water out of the cup
  2. Making the cup bigger

Sometimes there are cases when “the water” is primarily a non modifiable factor requiring a more invasive intervention such a surgery or injection to provide relief and return to function. However, many times that can be avoided.


  1.  http://www.greglehman.ca/blog/2017/3/6/tissue-changes-and-pain-explaining-their-relevance

Get an Evaluation From OrthoBethesda’s Physical Therapists

A physical therapist can conduct an evaluation to help determine the main contributing factors for this pain and help you create a program that will make your body stronger as well as take some water out of your cup! Contact us today if you are interested!