Ulysses S. Grant, the 18th President of the United States
1. The word “pain” derives from the Latin word “poena,” which means “punishment or penalty.” The Greeks named their goddess of revenge, Poine, for inflicting pain upon mortals who angered the gods. Likewise, the Romans described the very spirit of punishment as “Poena.” These cultures, along with many others, attempted rituals, sacrifices, and other offerings to ward off the possibility of pain-related illness.
2. Opium occupies a special place of the history of pain theory. Archaelogists have found evidence of opium directives that date back to 5000 B.C. And in 800 B.C., Homer wrote about opium as a pain reliever in The Odyssey.
2. Plato and Aristotle believed that pain wasn’t a true sensory experience. They held that the roots of pain were found in emotions rather than physical feelings. Aristotle went further than Plato to say that pain was a spirit that entered the body through a vulnerability (the injury itself).
3. Ancient doctors would often drill holes in patients’ heads to “release” pain. Greek physician Hippocrates referred to the process as “trepanation.” This likely didn’t work (except to cause more pain), but the widespread practice was discovered in countless skulls at Incan archaelogical sites.
4. Ancient Egyptians used electric eels from the Nile to reduce pain. They placed the eels over affected parts of patients’ bodies. This practice can be compared to the use of transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) to relieve modern pain.
5. Many cultures believed in chewing willow leaves to relieve pain. Today, we use a form of this technique. Salicylic acid (aspirin’s active ingredient) derives from the plant genus Salix (which includes willow trees).
6. Native American healers believed pain was all in one’s head, literally. So they used pain pipes to “suck” the pain right out of a patient’s head.
7. During the Renaissance, Rene Descartes rejected Aristotle’s teachings that pain came from outside the body. Descartes (a proponent of the the mind-body split) believed that the body was a machine, and pain was a signal (sent by the nerves to the brain) that something was wrong with the machine itself.
8. Specificity theory built upon Descartes’ teachings. This theory viewed pain as a specific sensation independent of all senses, including touch. This theory rose as the prevailing one in the 1990s. It was replaced by several other theories in the following decades.
9. According to evolutionary theory, pain is (like everything else) a means to survival. This view holds that pain protects us by forcing us away from the harm-causing agent. In turn, we collectively remember to stay away from whatever causes this pain in the future.
10. Before anesthesia was invented, surgeons used various methods to knock their patients out.. Italians literally hit their patients over the head until they lost consciousness. Some surgeons would choke their patients for the same effect.
11. In 1846, a dentist named William T.G. Morton successfully administered anesthesia to a patient for the very first time. Many tried before with fatal results, but Morton’s ether inhaler was a game changer.
12. When Coca-Cola first launched in 1886, it was advertised as a miracle cure. Any and all “therapeutic” effects can be solely attributed to the cocaine that once resided within every serving of the soda.
13. Another stimulant, caffeine, has been found effective in treating some types of pain. That would explain why Excedrin and other over-the-counter medications include caffeine to treat headaches and other minor ailments.
14. Magnets have had a debatable presence on pain treatment for centuries. Recent studies suggest a placebo effect with no discernible benefits.
15. Pain thresholds vary from person to person and (often) from culture to culture. A threshold occurs at the moment a person acts to stop a painful stimulus.
16. Pain and suffering are wildly subjective but universally feared. Every day in the United States, juries award plaintiffs vast sums of money for pain and suffering at the hands of culpable defendants.
17. Ancient practices of holistic treatment of pain have made a comeback in recent years. Head drilling will, hopefully, remain a pain prescription from the past, but treating a the patient as a whole is much more common nowadays than simply treating symptoms.