Last week I posted this graphic about some core concepts of pain that many people do not understand. You may ask “what does this have to do with me?” Understanding pain can be helpful in getting it better. Many people’s misconceptions lead to fear and anxiety, which can lead to more pain. It can also lead to poor decision making in what to do, especially with more persistent pain.
The first concept to understand is that pain is produced by our nervous system and brain. The first thing to understand about that concept is that this does not mean pain is “all in your head”.
Many people, in fact science, until somewhat recently though of pain as an input from our body to our brain. In other words, you get some damage to a tissue lie a cut, sprain, or broken bone, and your body sends a pain signal to your brain to make it aware so it can take action. Our body does send signal to our brain. But they are danger or potential danger signals. Your body has nerves throughout which are always sensing what’s happening. They can sense temperature, chemical stress, and mechanical stress. If something out of the ordinary is going on they send this information onto the spinal cord and the brain. The nervous system then analyzes this along with lots of other information to decide if this sensation is worth worrying about and then makes a decision what to do. The other information includes what else you are feeling, seeing, or hearing, previous experiences, memories, thoughts and beliefs, and emotions, among other things.
Once all this gets processed, the nervous system makes a decision. Is this a threat? If it is, what to do? It could decide that the pinch on your nose is you baby grabbing it and that’s not a threat so you feel a little pressure and not much else. It could decide that the same pinch is a stranger on the subway and go into threat mode. It may hurt. You may get nervous and tense up and protect yourself. This process is called nociception and is happening constantly, all day through our lives. Most of the information we process is normal and we don’t feel too much and what we do feel is normal. But we may get a chill and grab a coat. We might get hungry and get some food. Me might feel pressure on our back after sitting too long and move around. Sometimes when it is threatening enough we feel pain.
As you can see pain is a process from the body and tissues and the nervous system and brain together. This system is meant to protect us. If we step on a sharp rock and cut our foot or twist our ankle we need to be aware. This allows us to take care of things. Clean out the cut. Rest the ankle. Get things checked out.
In acute pain this is necessary and helps keep us healthy and alive. Sometimes our system can get sensitized or over protective and this can lead to more persistent pain. In some of the future concepts we will talk about this and what it means.
If you have any questions about pain, post in the comments or give us a call at 970-949-9966 or ascent-pt.com.