Pain: Why Do We Feel It?

When you stub your toe, close a drawer on your fingertip or hit your ‘funny bone’, you might brace for the pain that you’re sure is to follow. But have you ever wondered why you feel that pain? Pain is the way your body signals to your brain that something isn’t right. Following an injury, like stubbing your toe, signals are sent to your brain alerting your brain that your body has been damaged. Together, your brain and spinal cord form your central nervous system. Another part of your nervous system is made up of your sensory and motor nerves, which form your peripheral nervous system. Your nerves send information through your spinal cord to your brain, transmitting information about your environment. Your brain then processes the information and sends signals back to your nerves helping you to respond through either voluntary or involuntary action.

Acute vs. Chronic Pain

The physical pain you experience throughout life can be either acute (short term pain) or chronic (longer lasting). Pain that is acute is a severe or sudden pain that will disappear in a short period of time. Injuries, surgery, or illness might cause you to feel acute pain. A sprained wrist is an example of acute pain. Your wrists’ sensory nerves fire off to let your spinal cord know that something is wrong. The spinal cord relays the message to your brain. Your brain then takes this information and determines how bad the damage is and what to do next. You have a massive database in your brain for every incident like this in your life, and it tries to recall the situations in which you have faced this kind of injury before. A billion different responses may ensue from your brain, like crying, increasing your heart rate, releasing adrenaline, etc. Those initial pain receptors that fire during acute pain continue to fire during chronic pain. Chronic pain is defined as any pain that persists for a period of more than 3 months or longer than expected. The cause of chronic pain can be a disease or condition that repeatedly causes damage.

Such is the case for arthritis, where your joints might feel like they are in constant agony, sending repeated signals to the brain. The pain may no longer be caused by a physical effect, but the pain response remains. Chronic pain, when left untreated, has the potential to change the way your brain interprets pain. Your nerves may begin to relay pain signals brought out by non-painful situations such as a change in position or temperature.

Additional Influencer

There are other important factors at play that can also influence the pain we feel. Each person experiences pain differently, and what is painful to one person might be only mildly uncomfortable to another. Because pain signals pass through the emotional and thinking regions of your brain, the way in which you experience pain is influenced not only by physical factors but also by psychological, emotional, and social factors. How you feel pain can be influenced by many things, including your memories of painful experiences in the past, your genes, long-term health problems, coping strategies, and attitudes toward pain.

At One Wellness, we look at each individual’s unique pain picture. With the help of cutting edge technology, we can identify the source of the pain and get to work addressing it. For more information about our approach to pain management, contact us at 385.248.1536.

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