What is pain? A phenomenological approach to understanding


  • Rhonda Nay BA, M(Litt), PhD, RN,

  • Deirdre Fetherstonhaugh BA, MA, PhD, RN

Rhonda Nay
Australian Institute for Primary Care & Ageing
Level 5, Health Sciences 2
La Trobe University
Melbourne, Vic. 3086
Telephone: +61 3 9479 3935
E-mail: r.nay@latrobe.edu.au


nay r. & fetherstonhaugh d. (2012) What is pain? A phenomenological approach to understanding. International Journal of Older People Nursing7, 233–239
doi: 10.1111/j.1748-3743.2012.00329.x

Pain is an individual experience. This paper presents four phenomenological accounts of pain which describe: the pain at the time of the experience; the meaning the pain had at the time of the experience (reflection in); and the meaning of the experience looking back on it (reflection upon). Specifically, the accounts describe pain that is emotional, cognitive and physical (acute and chronic). By exploring the essence of pain using very personal accounts, we encourage nurses to reflect on how their own understanding of pain and individual responses to pain can impact on how they in turn recognise, assess and manage pain in older people and especially those living with dementia. Paper 1 highlights the under-assessment of pain in older people with dementia. By confronting readers with this paper’s phenomenological approach, it is hoped that they will be challenged to address this situation.