Over the last 5-10 years, the world has learned A LOT about pain and how it works.
This information isn’t so readily available or easy to understand for a lot of us, so we’ve decided to produce a series of articles to help people understand their pain and what is going on in their body
First, because KNOWLEDGE IS POWER! And second, because understanding why you feel what you feel is empowering, and helps to reduce stigma (as they say – just knowing is half the battle)
This is part one of what will be a five-part series, all about how pain works, and how it affects us!
All pain comes from your brain.
Now, intuitively, we all understand that pain comes from receptors in our body. We have nerve endings all over our body that pick-up pain signals and signal them to our brain, right?
Sorry, but that’s actually wrong!
All pain (and all sensory experience for that matter) comes from our brain. Our body is providing millions of sensory input signal to our brain all the time, but our brain is taking all of that in and then deciding what we experience.
It’s the OUTPUT from our brain is actually what we experience.
This makes sense if we compare what we know about our other senses.
Our ears don’t hear sounds.
There are receptors in our ears that are sensitive to the vibration of air particles. When they pick up the vibration of air particles, those receptors then turn the vibrations into electrical information that is transmitted to our brain. Our brain will then interpret that electrical signal and works out what we are hearing. What we hear is an output of our brain computing the signals.
We don’t hear everything the same either. If you’re doing something else you might not hear at all, even though the vibrations coming into the ear are the same. Just having the receptors stimulated, doesn’t mean we actually hear (think “selective hearing”). It’s what the brain chooses to do with the input it receives that determines what we actually experience.
Our eyes don’t see.
The brain sees through the information provided by our eyes. Our eyes bring in light, focusing it on the back of our eyes. Light hits those parts of the eye and stimulates electrical signals to the brain. Your brain will interpret this information to then give you an experience of what you are seeing. Some examples of this are optical illusions, blind spots, or not always seeing your nose (even though it’s always in your field of view).
(I bet you just looked at your nose!)
This is what happens with pain. Your brain is provided input from all over your body and it decides what you feel based on its own priorities.
In our next pain blog, we’ll learn about pain as a warning system, as opposed to pain being an indicator of damage to the body. Stay tuned!