If you touch something hot, it hurts. You snatch your hand away from the hot
thing immediately. Obviously. But what is really happening, biologically–and
emotionally? In Understanding Pain, Fernando Cervero explores the mechanisms
and the meaning of pain. You touch something hot and your brain triggers a reflex
action that causes you to withdraw your hand, protecting you from injury. That
kind of pain, Cervero explains, is actually good for us; it acts as an alarm
that warns us of danger and keeps us away from harm.
But, Cervero tells us, not all pain is good for you. There is another kind of pain that is more like a curse: chronic pain that is not related to injury. This is the kind of pain that fills pain clinics and makes life miserable. Cervero describes current research into the mysteries of chronic pain and efforts to develop more effective treatments.
Cervero reminds us that pain is the most common reason for people to seek medical attention, but that it remains a biological enigma. It is protective, but not always. Its effects are not only sensory but also emotional. There is no way to measure it objectively, no test that comes back positive for pain; the only way a medical professional can gauge pain is by listening to the patient’s description of it. The idea of pain as a test of character or a punishment to be borne is changing; prevention and treatment of pain are increasingly important to researchers, clinicians, and patients. Cervero’s account brings us closer to understanding the meaning of pain.
About the Author
Fernando Cervero, President of the International Association for the Study of Pain, is Professor of Anesthesia at McGill University, where he is the Director of the Alan Edwards Centre for Research on Pain.
“Understanding Pain, Fernando Cervero gives a remarkably lively tour of what we do know...Cervero provides a rich and historical backdrop, and layers his explanations with colourful metaphors and relatable examples.” —Samantha Murphy, New Scientist
“This is an enjoyable and thought-provoking work, written in an accessible style that will be welcomed by those who are interested in the discipline of pain and have some background knowledge in neuroscience.” —Gila Moalem-Taylor, Times Higher Education
“Fernando Cervero's unique ability to provide an understanding of the
complex experience of pain will be appreciated by everyone. He integrates historical
perspectives with useful anecdotes that contribute to understanding pain relative
to personal experience. Noteworthy is his immensely readable chapter on pain
hypersensitivity, which explains complex molecular and cellular changes leading
to abnormal painful experiences that result in maladaptable behavior. Cervero
correctly emphasizes that pain after injury is “unnecessary and avoidable”,
and not merely a symptom, but a disease in itself, and must be treated.”
—Ronald Dubner, Department of Neural and Pain Sciences, University of
Maryland School of Dentistry
“Fernando Cervero has written an up-to-date introduction to the science of pain. His language is concise and his coverage of topics is broad and placed in historical perspective. Non-specialists will find in this book a readable, accessible and informative entry to the major questions and key discoveries that have broadened our understanding of pain.”
—Howard Fields, Professor of Neurology; Director, Wheeler Center for the Neurobiology of Addiction, University of California, San Francisco
“In a straightforward but nevertheless fascinating way, Fernando Cervero, an excellent pain researcher and a superb writer, unravels the many well known facts as well as the just as numerous mysteries of pain. In comparison to our classical five senses, pain is a very different one indeed. Although it shares quite a number of features with those of the other sensory modalities, it has even more features which have no counterpart.”
—Robert F. Schmidt, University of Würzburg