When Sterling Witt was a teenager in Missouri, he was diagnosed with scoliosis. Before long, the curvature of his spine started causing chronic pain.
It was "this low-grade kind of menacing pain that ran through my spine and mostly my lower back and my upper right shoulder blade and then even into my neck a little bit," Witt says.
The pain was bad. But the feeling of helplessness it produced in him was even worse.
"I felt like I was being attacked by this invisible enemy," Witt says. "It was nothing that I asked for, and I didn't even know how to battle it."
So he channeled his frustration into music and art that depicted his pain. It was "a way I could express myself," he says. "It was liberating."
Witt's experience is typical of how an unpleasant sensation can become something much more complicated, scientists say.