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Understanding Pain

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Title: Understanding Pain

Author: Fernando Cervero

Publisher: MIT Press, 2012

Reviewer: Anne Duell, registered general nurse, Birmingham Community NHS Trust

What was it like?

This hard back book aids the reader do exactly what it says, to “Understand Pain” and it covers the basics of pain but quickly and succinctly progresses onto the complexities of pain and its impact on the human person.

It is a book that lays the ground rules and expectations but it also provides questions to allow the reader to go beyond the printed text and research further into the field of pain and its management.

Cervero begins by examining the biological processes of pain and its social implications and effects. He proceeds to discuss how we measure it and the influence of pain scales in this process. Within this he spends time discussing the complexities of measuring pain perception and the use of laboratory animals and the benefits and pitfalls of this when attempting to transpose the data to human interpretation.


The book has a reader friendly manner as it travels through different historical points in its journey to unravel the mystery surrounding pain. For example in chapter three, which addresses nocioceptors and sensing pain, he begins by discussing how Croton in 500 BC began to study how sensory perception was directly linked to the brain and the organs of sense and continues a historical journey through the discovery and understanding of pain.

As an author he has great skill in posing questions and challenges our perceptions. One of these challenges is that he reminds us that ice is not cold but it is our perception that causes this interpretation. Bringing his ideas up to date he uses relevant examples such as wearing a new pair of shoes and the impact of phantom pain following a limb amputation.

What were the highlights? 

The highlight of this book is the coherent way in which the author manages to present a complex subject of pain in a manner that enables a wider readership. Another highlight is the manner in which Cervero is able to take his reader through a historical journey while presenting up to date information.

Strengths & weaknesses:

There are many strengths in this book, like the sheer complexity of the subject matter, its readability and relevance for anyone working within pain management. It is insightful and as a reader I was gripped by the content and could not wait to read the next chapter.

Who should read it?

This book is a must for any health care professional working with patients/clients who exhibit pain, whether minor or chronic. Also for patients who want to learn more about the history of pain management and how pain is perceived.

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