History of Treatment of Pain

  • The word “pain” is thought to have come from the Greek goddess of revenge, Poine, was sent to punish mortal fools who had angered the gods.

  • This was a common belief at the time with many ancient cultures believe pain and disease were punishment for human foolishness. They tried to appease the angry gods with offerings and scapegoats, sacrificial animals that carried the sins of people out into the wilderness

  • Hippocrates historically wrote about several treatments for pain. Some had some merit such as the use of willow bark which contains a form of salicylic acid (in modern day known as aspirin) however some others such as drilling holes in one’s skull “to let the pain out” did more harm than good

  • Ancient Egyptians used to place electrical eels on sufferers of pain. While seemingly dangerous, the concept is now used in a more controlled manner with TENS machines.


Many individuals currently live with chronic pain and all too often this can be difficult to treat. In recent years, there has been an eruption of knowledge about how pain is felt. The Pain, the brain and a little bit of magic talk will focus on these up to date findings and present them in a manner palatable to a lay audience. The key points we aim to get across are;

1. Pain is a brain problem

When pain is felt, areas of the brain called the “pain matrix” become activated and these areas are key in our understanding of pain. There are different parts of the pain matrix which help an individual feel where the pain is or feel certain emotions about the pain, such as anger or depression.  We have created a model which will act as a centre piece for our performance that illustrates these regions for all to see thereby shedding light on mystery of what happens when you feel pain

2. The brain is very flexible and powerful

The brain is arguably the most important organ in the body. It contains one’s sense of self and all the memories and emotions that make us who we are. In addition, the brain is also very flexible, meaning it can be trained. Evidence has shown that training one’s brain can help improve reasoning, the speed of thought and one’s ability to deal with difficult tasks. Indeed, this unique feature allows the brain ‘to be moulded’ for the benefit of the individual.

3. Pain is a potentially reversible

These findings above have led to whole new concepts about how the brain is treated.  Current medicines often are ineffective in treating chronic pain. Work by the Human Pain Research Group and colleagues have shown that alternative treatments are effective in treating individuals suffering from pain. These alternative treatments include mindfulness meditation, presenting the individual with light and sound of a certain wave frequency and even placebo. All of these findings have changed the way we look at pain and provide new hope for the future development of pain treatments.