NHS Lothian

Pain does not equal damage

1 min read

Pain is a normal part of life and doesn’t always mean that something is wrong. Think of pain as an alarm system inside you, looking out for any danger that might cause you harm. Sometimes this alarm system can react in a way that’s not proportionate to the danger it detects.

Examples of when pain can draws your attention but is not linked to damage include:

  • It’s unlikely that a headache is caused by damage. It’s more likely caused by stress, dehydration or muscle tension.
  • Trapped wind. There’s no damage with this, but it can be very painful. Once the wind has passed, however, you generally feel better
  • Stomach pain such as food poisoning. This can be very painful but is not usually linked to damage in the body.


X-Rays and Scans

Most people are now aware of scans and x-rays, and often think that these techniques will be able to diagnose pain. However, for many people, this will not lead to a diagnosis but will instead confirm what we already know about the ageing body. Some people may have scans that indicate ‘wear and tear’ or the normal ageing process, but this is experienced as severe pain. For others, there may be evidence of ‘wear and tear’, but no pain. In other words, scans do not predict the amount of pain people experience.

  • Changes that are described as ‘degeneration’ are normal. Just like your body ages on the outside (grey hair, wrinkles), your body ages inside too.
  • Having changes on a scan or x-ray is not the full picture about why you’re in pain.
  • MRI’s, x-rays and other tests are not always helpful at getting to the bottom of why you feel pain.
Urgent Help


If you, or someone you know, is in crisis and in imminent danger of causing harm to themselves or others, call 999 immediately

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