Pain Myth #1

Last week I posted about 5 common myths about pain.  Over the next few posts I will try to explain why each is a myth.  Here is that list again if you didn’t see it or don’t remember it.

  1. Pain comes from a specific structure in your body, for example a joint, bone, or muscle.
  2. The amount of pain some is experiencing is directly related to the amount of structural damage or seriousness of an injury.
  3. Pain signals are sent from the body to the brain
  4. Pain is a completely physical experience, separate from thoughts or emotions
  5. Pain is in your head or psychosomatic if no physical injury or signs are present, for example negative scans or no obvious injury.

Today we will actually start with the third myth on the list “Pain signals are sent from the body to the brain.”

Many people believe that when something happens to us as in physical trauma or injury the affected tissue sends a pain signal to tell the brain something is getting injured or damaged.  It is true that a signal does get sent to the brain, but it is not actually pain.

In our tissues we have receptors for temperature, mechanical stress, or chemical stress.  When enough of these are activated, signals are sent to the spinal cord and eventually the brain.  Again these are not pain, but could be thought of as potential threat.  When these signals reach the brain, it processes them.  It takes these inputs, along with other inputs, such as  sensation from other parts of the body and other sensory inputs like vision, smell, and hearing, along with other information like memory, experience,and an emotion.  Once the brain processes all of this information it decides whether the threat warrants pain or other actions. The reason for this is to protect you from potential threats.  Pain and other actions are for warning and self preservation.

This is key to understanding when you are experiencing persistent pain.  Many people are under the impression that if they are experiencing pain in the spine, knee, or other area of the body, they must have significant or continuing injury.  They think “my body is telling me I am injured”.  The body may be sending signals to the brain of potential threat, but the brain may be processing these signals incorrectly, giving a pain experience when there is no real threat to the body.  People who continue to try to physically change these tissue with various treatments, or continue to be protective of these areas may continue to experience pain despite this.

Next time we will examine another pain myth.

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