The Evolution of Modern Pain Science: Part 1

Jan 10 / Tania Velásquez
This series will be released in segments. Follow in the Peer Social Network or our other socials for updates.


Ronald Melzack's legacy as the father of modern pain science is indisputable. He was a phenomenal human being whose work and insights have changed the world. Melzack was a total rockstar. 💥

With that, there have also been many influential grandmothers and other contributions made along the way and we don't hear nearly enough about those.

These contributors also merit recognition on what at least 2/3 of modern pain science corroborates today.

The aim of this series is to give full and appropriate credit where credit is due. Not only in the realm of pain science, but in healthcare in general. 


Although this is part of a larger program for manual and movement therapists and clinicians, the content can be followed by just about anyone who’s interested in the subject, including patients and clients.

My hope is that it’s laid out in a way that no matter what your profession or experience level may be, that you’ll be able to find at least one golden nugget in it for yourself, or at least gain a wider perspective on this curious, complex, and universal experience of pain.

My name is Tania, I'm the founder of Pinpoint Education and I’ll be your tour guide on this particular journey through the evolution of modern pain science.

What is pain science? 

Well, it’s simply the study of pain, but of course, it’s not so simple. Because pain is subjective and can’t be put under a microscope or measured, and any attempts to replicate it for the sole purpose of study is kind of frowned upon by ethics review boards for good reason.

We now understand the accurate study of pain involves systems thinking and the conjoining and analysis of may different sciences including all the “neuros”: neurology, neuroscience, neuroanatomy, and neurophysiology; as well as epidemiology with equal parts psychology, sociology and social psychology, the humanities, psychiatry, and cognitive and behavioral sciences, off the top of my head. Not to even mention how healthcare policy relates to all this.

You are here

All this had to start getting figured out somewhere, and we’ll get to that, but first, let’s see where we’re at are now:
That will all be explained later (if you aren't already familiar). But a lot of fumbling around had to take place over many centuries before Melzack could arrive at the neuromatrix theory of pain.

To track that, we're going to need to travel back in time to the beginning of human civilization and progress from there. You'll see how in all that fumbling around, there was plenty humanity got right from the very beginning. And sadly, a lot was lost along the way. But that can be rectified to some degree.

By the end of this series, we’ll be meeting right back here at the neuromatrix. Only time will tell what comes after that but right now this is where the party is at.

Quick Neuromatrix Catch-up

Melzack gave birth to the neuromatrix theory of pain in 2001. It was later updated in 2013 in partnership with researcher Dr. Joel Katz.

It first formally introduced the role of cognition and emotion in the perception of pain, in addition to its somatosensory component.

At the moment, it’s our most accurate working model for understanding pain and if there’s any  update or change to that in the future, you can bet we’ll be updating our content along with it.

Why learn about the history of pain science?

Well, in any aspect of life whether professional or personal, having a sense of history is instrumental in our development and brings clarity to how we operate and can help us determine our future direction and potentials for growth.

It’s also worthwhile to simply honor those who’ve come before us and who were instrumental in our human evolution.

Think about all the trial-and-error that’s gone into learning about the maintenance of health, along with finding treatments for pain and disease that have allowed to live this long and to make it this far.

Without all that groundwork and our remarkable human ability to adapt, we could have very likely gone completely extinct like the Neanderthals did.

So, I’m thankful for everyone with opposable thumbs who’s contributed solutions so far, because circumstances and biology can create some very serious challenges for homeostasis. And when homeostasis gets disrupted or degrades in some way, pain is usually not too far behind.

Understanding the timeline of our existing knowledge base is crucial to understanding our own beliefs about pain, the approaches we use in our practice, the Neuromatrix theory itself as well as emergent models, and further mapping out the road ahead.

Because how can we know where to go next if we don't know where we’ve already been? 

❝ Those who fail to learn from the mistakes of their predecessors are destined to repeat them.”

- George Santayana

And there’s more than a few mistakes society can stop repeating, like immediately. This series helps us both appreciate what we’ve learned so far and where it’s time to move past erroneous assumptions and unhelpful narratives about pain, so we can embrace concepts that are crucial to better healthcare and pain care, in a rapidly changing world.

Next up is Part 2. We'll pick up right where we left off here.