The following is based on information from an article written by Dr. Barry Aaronson.
A 73 year old retired hi-tech photographer worked most of his life at NASA. He was diagnosed with mildly herniated discs in his lower back (lumbar area) and was on heavy medication (OxyContin; Elevil to sleep and valium, a muscle relaxant and tranquilizer). He was seriously thinking of ending his life because of the pain and had obtained medication that he believed would accomplish this. He felt his family and friends had heard enough of his complaining and that he’d had a good life and wanted to exit with dignity.
Having read this, one would think that this person would be in unbearable pain! However, when asked to describe his pain on a 1-10 scale he stated his pain was 3. On receiving an explanation as to how the scale works (10 – your worst pain, 1 – no pain) he gave the same answer – 3 and explained that he had been pain free his whole life except when, in his sixties, he had a rotator cuff injury from playing racquet ball. He underwent surgery and was back to his old self again in six months, but he couldn’t live with any pain after that. He tended to obsess about the pain and focus on it all the time, which kept him from having a social life of any kind. He even stopped singing in his barbershop quartet, with whom he had been singing twice a week for the past 20 years prior to his constant pain.
This person was suffering because of his conscious experience of pain which was not directly correlated to standard objective findings. In addition to his depression and life anxiety, he was now exhibiting high autonomic arousal (i.e. high muscle tension, poor peripheral circulation, high sweat gland activity, high beta-aroused brain waves, etc.), poor body alignment and mechanics and deconditioning from a fear that exercising would exacerbate his pain.