Trivia: The Fear and Absence of Pain

Odynophobia is the most common fear in the world. It's the fear of pain.

Most people don't like feeling pain - but being able to feel pain is actually a good thing. Consider the opposite: about 17 people in the United States are born with "congenital insensitivity to pain with anhidrosis" - basically, they feel absolutely no pain. Far from being a wonderful thing, living without pain is actually hell.

Here's a story of (then) 4-year-old Roberto Salazar, who was born without the ability to feel any pain:

When you first meet 4-year-old Roberto Salazar, you can't help but notice his unwavering smile and constant laughter. By all accounts, he's a very happy boy.

It is only when he rams his head violently into walls or plays a little too roughly with a schoolmate, all the while smiling, that you are reminded that he suffers from an incredibly rare genetic disorder. [...]

His family was shocked when Roberto started teething. He gnawed on his own tongue, lips and fingers to the point of mutilation. "If you could imagine when you bite your tongue how bad it hurts. At one point, you couldn't even distinguish that his tongue was his tongue," Stingley-Salazar said.

Doctor Felicia Axelrod of the New York University, who specializes in this rare disease, said:

"For some children it's a mild degree such as breaking a leg, they'll get up and walk on the leg. They feel that something is uncomfortable but they keep on moving," she said. "For other children, the pain loss is so severe that they can injure themselves repetitively and actually mutilate themselves because they don't know when to stop." (Source)

I read once, long go, that this is the reason people with leprosy end up with missing fingers and toes. Due to nerve damage, they cannot feel when they are injured, so infection and gangrene can set in. Pain is nature's warning system.
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Perhaps the opposite of this is Central Pain Syndrome, which occurs after a brain injury, tumor or a stroke affects the thalamus or brainstem. Sufferers feel incredible pain, described as an aching burning cold, a "pins and needles" or a crushing sensation, on the side of their body affected by the brain injury. Opiates and analgesics can do nothing to alleviate it.

It is related to Phantom Limb Syndrome in that the unremitting pain feels as if it is the product of some injury occurring to the limb, but is actually the result of neurological dysfunction.

Presently incurable, suicide is a common cause of death among its sufferers.
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Exactly right Miss C. If you ever get a chance, pick up a copy of Pain; The Gift That Nobody Wants by Dr. Paul Brand & Philip Yancey. Fascinating book. Brand was a missionary doc in India, and did a lot of groundbreaking work in treating leprosy, which led to similar work in treating diabetics. He also discusses this disorder in the book.

In both leprosy and diabetes, sensation is lost in the extremities, which allows small injuries to go unnoticed. For most of us, we get an injury, it hurts, and we take care of it. For someone with leprosy or advanced diabetes, the little injuries can go unnoticed and untreated. If untreated for too long, even a hangnail can end up requiring amputation.
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Looks like I'm not the only one to instantly think of neuropathy! It gives me the screaming heebie-jeebies. Several members of my family have Type II Diabetes, and most of them suffer with loss of sensation in their limbs--or worse, that horrible pins-and-needles feeling. Just thinking about it makes my legs ache...

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A fear of pain can't possible be described as a phobia as a phobia is defined as an irrational fear. As the post describes, a fear of pain is hardly irrational, it's functional.
For example, a worker who has a chronic fear of snakes, but must work bare-footed in long grass in a village where with a population of just 4500, roughly 80 people are killed each year by deadly taipan bites, wouldn’t be diagnosed by any psychologist as having a phobic fear of snakes as his fear is entirely justified.
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