The meaning of pain in Asia
Pain is among the most universal of human experiences. Nearly everyone will experience a variety of pain in their lifetime, whether common injuries, acute exercise-related aches, or pain resulting from long-term illness. Naturally, people are driven to find meaning in their experience of pain. Besides gender and social factors, culture is at the foundation of the meaning of pain and the subsequent management of it.
It is therefore important for health and wellness brands to understand the fundamental differences in pain management attitudes and behaviours in Asia versus the West in order to develop relevant pain-relieving products and connect with people in more meaningful ways.
The foundational narratives around the meaning of pain that dominate in the East and West are distinct. In the West, pain is generally seen as an external attack on the body. It is bound with the idea of ‘punishment’ (the word 'pain' coming from the Latin word for ‘penalty’) and is seen as an interruption to one’s way of life. Hence, pain management tends to be governed by a problem-solution perspective that emphasises a scientific approach, one that treats the painful area in isolation from the rest of the body.
People in many Asian countries, particularly China, India and Malaysia, gravitate to the belief that pain is an imbalance between the body and mind. Pain does not carry the implication of punishment to the same degree as in the West. There is more of a sense that pain is something that originates in nature and an acceptance that it is an inevitable part of life. Pain does not need to be overcome immediately; enduring it is part of the process to self-improvement or even enlightenment. Instant pain relief is a shortcut and viewed with suspicion.
Accordingly, two principles apply to the overall pain-management philosophy in Asia. First of all, healing should not only address the body, but also the mind. Mental rest is regarded as a crucial part of pain management to put the body in an optimal state for regeneration. Secondly, pain relief should work with the body and respect it, during the pain as well as in the longer term.
Naturally, these principles translate to many who believe strongly in the power of natural and topical pain-relief brands, as opposed to systemic brands, for their moderate pains. However, there are three actions any brand can take to assist people on their journey to pain relief:
Even in acute pain moments, people worry about the impact of treatments on their body’s natural healing abilities, especially for repeated treatments. It is a must for any health and wellness brand to firstly reassure people about overall product safety, the mildness of ingredients or a harmless mode of action for both short-term and long-term effects on the body.
Brands need to think of how to facilitate or promote mental rest as part of their pain-relief proposition. One way to do this is through product sensorials like temperature, texture or scent that can make people feel calm and temporarily forget about their pain. Another way is to integrate relaxing rituals into the healing process. Meditainment, supported by the NHS in the UK, offers free online meditation sessions to help chronic pain patients self-manage their ailments. Tiger Balm, a long-standing topical brand in Asia, associates self-massage with the product’s application ritual, even for its on-the-go variants.
Many look for solutions that actively work together with their body to relieve pain. A treatment that completely eliminates the feeling of pain without giving a sense that it collaborates with the body could feel like a cheat. This means that brands need to move away from positioning their product as the sole ‘hero’, to demonstrating how their products can work together with pain sufferers to alleviate discomfort and heal. Additionally, educational tools allow brands to place their products in a broader, more engaging pain-management journey. For example, the Migraine Coach app already helps people understand their pain better by actively involving them in the healing process through tracking potential triggers and evaluating episodes as well as solutions and therapies. The Muscle Trigger Points app shows people how to independently identify pain points and encourages them to proactively work toward self-relief and natural healing.
In the near future, we hope to see more brands leveraging these Asia-specific pain management principles. Only with truly holistic solutions and active collaboration with pain sufferers can we work towards effective pain relief.
Nelise Doornenbal and Linh Le, Flamingo
This article first appeared in Campaign Asia